Doctor found guilty after government search

Physicians say the search violated patient privacy.

By Amy Lynn Sorrel — Posted Jan. 16, 2006

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A federal jury in Tennessee convicted an oncologist of health care fraud on Dec. 12, 2005, but the issue of just how far a government search can go to prosecute such cases still may be unresolved.

The jury found Young Moon, MD, guilty of defrauding Medicare, TennCare and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee by giving patients diluted chemotherapy drugs and billing for the full amount. Dr. Moon pleaded not guilty.

Meanwhile, doctors remain challenged by what they view as an overly invasive search of Dr. Moon's office in January 2002. Agents arrived unannounced during patient treatment to conduct interviews and to go through charts and exam rooms. They also videotaped the process.

That aspect of the Tennessee case has implications for doctors nationwide. "Who's to say it doesn't keep the government from doing the very same thing the next time they investigate somebody?" asked Yarnell Beatty, general counsel for the Tennessee Medical Assn., which, along with the American Medical Association/State Medical Societies Litigation Center, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Dr. Moon's motion to suppress the evidence collected in the search.

The search exceeded government authority and violated patient privacy, according to the medical associations' brief. Beatty emphasized that the TMA and the AMA did not weigh in on the doctor's guilt or innocence.

In August 2005, however, the court denied the motion to suppress and allowed the evidence to be used at trial.

"The search issue was resolved by the court and determined to be legitimate," said Sam Williamson, one of the U.S. attorneys who prosecuted the case, filed in the Middle District of Tennessee, Nashville Division.

But the TMA's Beatty said the search still could be an issue if the case is appealed. States have procedures in place, such as warrants, that the government should abide by when investigating fraud cases, without jeopardizing patient privacy, he said.

Robert Ritchie, Dr. Moon's attorney, declined to comment on whether the doctor will appeal the ruling on the search at the sentencing hearing scheduled for March 17.

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