MDs Receive Minor Punishments for Certain Crimes
Physicians who commit crimes such as insurance fraud, prescription violations and substance abuse often receive minor punishments from state and federal medical boards, according to a study conducted by Public Citizen and recently published in the journal Health Matrix, USA Today reports.
According to the study, which examined 2,247 physicians punished for criminal actions between 1990 and 1999, 36.2% of physicians who committed prescription violations or substance abuse violations received "wrist-slap" punishments -- such as fines, reprimands or mandatory educational programs. In addition, the study finds that 67.2% of physicians who committed Medicare, Medicaid and insurance fraud received minor punishments.
However, only 6.4% of physicians who committed crimes such as rape, sexual assault, indecency with a child or public indecency received minor punishments, the study finds. Physicians who committed violent crimes in most cases received more serious punishments, such as revocation of their licenses, according to the study.
Study author Peter Lurie, deputy director of the Health Research Group at Public Citizen, said that among medical boards "[t]here's a lot of emphasis on the procedural rights of the doctors and much less on the safety concerns of the patients," adding that "there are people with serious criminal records who wind up practicing" medicine.
Cecil Wilson, chair of the American Medical Association, said that the study indicates medical boards properly punish physicians who commit crimes. "Everyone who comes (before a medical board) because of a criminal activity doesn't receive the same punishment for reasons that there are different degrees of infraction that deserve different levels of discipline," Wilson said, adding, "It's not clear from this study that they've made a case that these boards are not being sufficiently strict on physicians" (Kornblum, USA Today, 8/31).