The Justice Department has convicted two doctors for falsely diagnosing patients as “terminal” to qualify for hospice care. From the U.S. Attorney’s press release:
Two doctors were found guilty today of federal health care fraud charges for falsely certifying that Medicare patients were terminally ill, and therefore qualified for hospice care, when the vast majority of them were not actually dying.
Following a two-week trial, the doctors were found guilty of participating in a scheme related to the Covina-based California Hospice Care (CHC). Between March 2009 and June 2013, CHC submitted approximately $8.8 million in fraudulent bills to Medicare and Medi-Cal for hospice-related services, and the public health programs paid nearly $7.4 million to CHC.
The motive there was clearly money. But this same kind of false terminal diagnosis could also happen with assisted suicide as a matter of ideology.
It already has. In the Michael Freeland case, a death doctor wrote a lethal prescription to a patient who died naturally…two years later. He even contacted Freeland after one year offering to write another prescription! That was an obvious violation of the assisted suicide law.
And yet, unlike the hospice fraudsters, nothing was done to punish this (now late) doctor, even though it was exposed in a professional journal and came to light when Freeland was admitted to a mental hospital a year after receiving the poison drugs. Worse, his treating psychiatrist took his guns but made sure his overdose remained at his home!
Why the enforcement disparity for violating “six month to live” rule between hospice and assisted suicide situations? I suggest the following:
- First, once assisted suicide is legalized, violations of “guidelines” just don’t matter to law enforcement or the media.
- Second, even if they cared–which they don’t–Oregon authorities don’t have the power, legal authority, or ideological desire to investigate assisted suicide abuses. Their desire is to help assisted suicide advocates spread the false propaganda that the Oregon law without a flaw. As Kathleen Foley and Herbert Hendin wrote in the Michigan Law Review:
OPHD “does not collect the information it would need to effectively monitor the law and in its actions and publications acts as the defender of the law rather than as the protector of the welfare of terminally ill patients.”
- Third, death doctors have greater protection in their assisted suicide activities than doctors do when treating patients. The latter have to comply with the “standard of care,” to be free potential liability. But death doctors cannot be punished or sued for assisting suicide if they act in “good faith.” Proving bad faith is far more difficult than demonstrating the standard of care was violated.
- Finally, Oregon relies almost exclusively on doctor self-reporting in its so-called “overight” of assisted suicide. They are as likely to admit they violated the law as to tell the IRS they cheated on their taxes.
Oregon aside, if assisted suicide is widely legalized, the Justice Department would never pursue intentional misdiagnoses, as it has in hospice cases.
Why? Assisted suicide saves money in health care. In an era in which containing costs becomes paramount, illegal premature assisted suicide prescriptions would be winked at as a proper husbanding of resources.
Hospices are under a lot of government pressure not to allow patients in who are not dying within 6 months. (That requirement needs to change.) Assisted suicide docs would never feel that heat from either state or federal authorities.