Feds Cop Plea in Arizona Pain Doctor Case
1/30/04 When Tucson pain specialist Dr. Jeri Hassmanwas indicted on 54 counts of prescribing opioid painkillers without a legitimate medical reason in March, federal prosecutors called her a Dr. Feelgood. When, after she refused to buckle under pressure, she was re-indicted in August, this time on a whopping 362 counts, they called her "a drug dealer with a pen."
Thursday, federal prosecutors accepted a plea bargain in which they dropped 358 charges, leaving Dr. Hassman to plead guilty only to four counts of failing to notify authorities that patients had admitted using other family members' prescription drugs. A case that began with a massive blaze of publicity courtesy of federal prosecutors has now ended with a whimper. There was no press release from the Arizona US Attorney's Office.
The plea bargain was hailed as victory by the Pain Relief Network (http://www.PainReliefNetwork.org), a national pain patient and doctor advocacy group that has called an April 19 march on Washington to focus national attention on the persecution of pain doctors and the chronic under-treatment of pain in this country.
Still, PRN criticized the government for seeking guilty pleas to the four counts.
"If we couldn't see it before," said PRN executive director Siobhan Reynolds, "I hope this deal makes it perfectly clear. The US government, by threat of criminal indictment, will hold physicians criminally responsible if they fail to act as law enforcement officers in their relationships with patients. Neither the Constitution nor the Congress ever gave the Department of Justice the power to do this and yet they use their sheer might to enforce their will."
The persecution of pain doctors has a chilling effect on pain treatment, Reynolds said.
"Doctors were already simply putting down their pens and telling people with high dose needs to look elsewhere for help. We are hearing daily about patient suicides from untreated pain. Now, I'm afraid, the situation will only deteriorate further."
PRN and the National Pain Patients Coalition are calling for a moratorium on drug war prosecutions of pain doctors and calling on Congress to rein in the DEA. "It's becoming increasingly clear that the DEA only goes after doctors who actually apply the science and give people in pain enough medication to resume their normal lives," said Reynolds. "This is an agency out of control."
For more on this: Pain Relief Network Lays Into Feds
Visit Dr. Hassmann's web site at:
JUDGE NIXES GOVT DELAY OF DOCTOR'S TRIAL;
Doctors Accuse Prosecutors of Stall Tactics
Contact: Kathryn Serkes
Association of American Physicians & Surgeons
TUCSON, AZ – July 3, 2003-- A federal judge has told prosecutions to stop dragging their feet, and get on with the trial of Tucson physician, Jeri Hassman, accused of 67 counts of wrongful prescribing of pain medication for her patients.
In a court proceeding this week, prosecutors from the United States Attorney’s office asked to delay the trial for almost a year. But Judge David Bury refused, noting in his opening remarks that the trial had already been continued from the original May 28 court date.
“The federal government was ready to indict Dr. Hassman, to shut down her practice, to force her pain patients to find another physician, and to drive her into bankruptcy,” said Jane M. Orient, M.D., Executive Director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, a national physician organization that supports Dr. Hassman.
“But when it comes time to go in the courtroom where Dr. Hassman will finally be found innocent, it claims that it is not ready to go to trial, where it would have prove its case to a jury,” said Dr. Orient. The FBI has been investigating Dr. Hassman since 1998, and executed a search warrant in May, 2002. “Isn’t that enough time to pull a case together if they really had one?”
Dr. Orient said that the prosecution’s case may be falling apart because of their reliance on a suspect expert witness. “Apparently, the government now thinks that its own expert witness used to get the indictment and to get Dr. Hassman's DEA registration suspended isn't good enough for the trial. They want more time to shop for a new one,” she said.
Dr. Orient further points out that the witness, Dr. Bradford Hare, was a key witness in the first trial of Dr. Robert Weitzel of Utah, who was charged with murder and convicted of negligent homicide and manslaughter in the deaths of five elderly patients. But Dr. Weitzel was eventually acquitted at a second trial when it was exposed that the government had concealed problems with the evidence of the expert witnesses.
“They can hold her hostage with these delays. They can ruin her without ever going to court to prove a thing with demands that drive up her legal bills, and prejudicial assertions that besmirch her reputation. If they can't make a case by now, maybe they should admit to making a mistake and let a good doctor get back to treating her patients,” she concluded.
NOTE: AAPS is a non-partisan, professional association of physicians in all specialties, dedicated since 1943 to protecting the patient-physician relationship. On June 26, AAPS held a rally of doctors and patients to show their support for Dr. Hassman.
DR. HASSMAN ATTACKS FEDS
DOCTOR FACES 108 CHARGES
By: Anne T. Denogean
April 1, 2003
Dr. Hassman allegedly overprescribed pain medication and is accused of health-care fraud.
A Tucson doctor was to be arraigned today on 108 federal charges related to overprescribing pain medication and health-care fraud.
Dr. Jeri B. Hassman, a pain-management specialist, was arrested Friday at her practice, Calmwood Medical, 3915 E. Broadway. She was released the same day and was back at her practice yesterday. Hassman faces 66 charges alleging she prescribed various painkillers to six patients without a legitimate medical reason. The drugs included morphine, methadone, Vicodin and Oxycontin - schedule II narcotics known for their addictive qualities and potential for abuse, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office.
"This case shows that no one is above the law. Even doctors are held to the same standards for illegal distribution of drugs," said Paul Charlton, the U.S. attorney for the District of Arizona.
Hassman's lawyer, Bates Butler III, responded that it's a case of the Drug Enforcement Administration abusing its authority and second-guessing an honest doctor.
The single fraud charge alleges Hassman schemed to defraud TRICARE, a managed health-care program for retired members of the U.S. military and their dependents. The remaining 41 counts relate to allegedly false statements Hassman's office made in claims to TRICARE in connection with the fraud.
The indictment alleges Hassman filed claims on patients to get payments she was not entitled to, specifically chiropractor services not covered by TRICARE. She allegedly employed chiropractors and others to perform the services on patients and then submitted the claims under her own name or, earlier, that of her previous employer.
"By submitting claims for health care benefit payments under those names and provider numbers, the defendant knowingly circumvented the exclusion of coverage by TRICARE for the services of a chiropractor," the indictment said. The alleged crimes took place between February 2001 and mid-May 2002.
If convicted, Hassman could face prison time and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. Butler said Hassman "believed when she prescribed for the patients that are listed in the indictment ... that she was prescribing them because it was medically necessary."
Hassman's DEA certificate of registration allowing her to prescribe controlled substances was suspended in November. Most of her 235 patients on controlled substances switched to other doctors, Butler said. He said reviews of the care those patients have received from their new doctors show "99 percent of them continue to receive the same or higher dosage of the controlled substances that Dr. Hassman was prescribing for them at the time DEA suspended her registration." "So," he asked, "is the DEA going to go after all those other doctors? "
"I think every doctor in southern Arizona should be worried that the DEA is going to second-guess them because it seems that's exactly what they think they are supposed to do," he said.
Regarding the fraud charge, Butler said Hassman made no secret of working with a chiropractor and believed her billing practices were correct. He noted that 27 of the alleged 41 false claims occurred when Hassman was a salaried doctor working at another practice and received the same salary no matter what bills were sent out.
"She didn't stand to profit there for how anything got billed," he said. "At no time was she aware of or did she intentionally participate in a scheme to defraud (TRICARE) of any of its money," Butler said.
A check of the Arizona Medical Board's records for the past five years shows Hassman had no malpractice claims resulting in payment, no criminal convictions and no disciplinary actions. The only open case relates to the current charges.