Sunday, March 8, 2009

Doctors trying to silence patients

Doctors Seek to Silence Online Reviews
March 6, 2009

The anonymous comment on the Web site was unsparing: "Very unhelpful, arrogant," it said of a doctor. "Did not listen and cut me off, seemed much too happy to have power (and abuse it!) over suffering people."

Such reviews are becoming more common as consumer ratings services like Zagat's and Angie's List expand beyond restaurants and plumbers to medical care, and some doctors are fighting back. They're asking patients to agree to what amounts to a gag order that bars them from posting negative comments online.

Going to the doctor is often a hassle, but it can turn into a nightmare if you feel you feel disrespected or mistreated while you're there. Medical ethics expert and hospital management consultant Arthur S. Shorr offers advice on what to do when a trip to the MD goes awry.

"Consumers and patients are hungry for good information" about doctors, but Internet reviews provide just the opposite, contends Dr. Jeffrey Segal, a North Carolina neurosurgeon who has made a business of helping doctors monitor and prevent online criticism.
Some sites "are little more than tabloid journalism without much interest in constructively improving practices," and their sniping comments can unfairly ruin a doctor's reputation, Segal said.

Segal said such postings say nothing about what should really matter to patients — a doctor's medical skills — and privacy laws and medical ethics prevent leave doctors powerless to do anything it.

His company, Medical Justice, is based in Greensboro, N.C. For a fee, it provides doctors with a standardized waiver agreement. Patients who sign agree not to post online comments about the doctor, "his expertise and/or treatment."

"Published comments on Web pages, blogs and/or mass correspondence, however well intended, could severely damage physician's practice," according to suggested wording the company provides.

Segal's company advises doctors to have all patients sign the agreements. If a new patient refuses, the doctor might suggest finding another doctor. Segal said he knows of no cases where longtime patients have been turned away for not signing the waivers.

The gas from rotten eggs could lead to a new form of Viagra? A study found that hydrogen sulfide prompts arousal in men. The discovery, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could lead to other forms of erectile dysfunction drugs.

Doctors are notified when a negative rating appears on a Web site, and, if the author's name is known, physicians can use the signed waivers to get the sites to remove offending opinion.

RateMd's postings are anonymous, and the site's operators say they do not know their users' identities. The operators also won't remove negative comments.
Angie's List's operators know the identities of users and warn them when they register that the site will share names with doctors if asked.

Since Segal's company began offering its service two years ago, nearly 2,000 doctors have signed up. In several instances, he said, doctors have used signed waivers to get sites to remove negative comments.

John Swapceinski, co-founder of, said that in recent months, six doctors have asked him to remove negative online comments based on patients' signed waivers. He has refused.

"They're basically forcing the patients to choose between health care and their First Amendment rights, and I really find that repulsive," Swapceinski said.
He said he's planning to post a "Wall of Shame" listing names of doctors who use patient waivers.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

AIG paid Stamford-based Gen Re in a secret deal to take out reinsurance policies

Ex-Gen Re executive gets 1 year in prison
Associated Press Writer

A former senior vice president at General Re Corp. was sentenced Wednesday to a year and a day in federal prison for an accounting fraud scandal that artificially propped up the stock price of insurer American International Group Inc.

Christopher Garand, 61, was also fined $150,000 for his role in the case, which authorities say cost AIG shareholders more than $500 million.

Garand is one of five former executives convicted in the case.

Federal prosecutors say New York-based AIG paid Stamford-based Gen Re in a secret deal to take out reinsurance policies with AIG in 2000 and 2001. They say the scheme propped up AIG's stock prices and inflated reserves by $500 million with the goal of quelling criticism by analysts and concerns by investors.

U.S. District Judge Christopher Droney noted at Wednesday's hearing that Garand didn't try to benefit personally from the stock manipulation, and he said the scandal was not comparable with higher-profile ones involving Enron Corp., Adelphia or other companies.

But the judge said Garand knew he was breaking the law.

"Mr. Garand knew and understood the scope of the ... fraud," the judge said, adding that a message needed to be sent to the business community that this kind of conduct will not be tolerated.

Garand had faced up to 160 years in prison and a fine of up to $29.5 million.

Defendants in the case have said in court papers that there was no link between the eight-year-old deal and AIG's recent financial troubles that sparked a federal financial-rescue package.

Garand, of Upper Saddle River, N.J., begged Droney for a lenient sentence, saying he didn't know how he and his family would cope with a prison sentence.

"I'm profoundly sorry, your honor," Garand said. "I ask for your wisdom, compassion and mercy."

His wife, Barbara, a school board official in their New Jersey community, also pleaded with Droney.

"These past few years have caused a great deal of pain to our family," she said. "Please don't take him from us. Our lives are in your hands."

Garand, his wife, his two daughters, ages 26 and 15, and many in the crowd of nearly 80 people cried during parts of the 2 1/2-hour proceeding. Garand said his main concerns were how his wife, children and granddaughter would cope if he was imprisoned.

Garand's family and friends sent numerous letters to the judge, saying Garand was a family man, Army veteran and tireless community volunteer.

Neither Garand nor his wife would comment after the hearing. He was ordered to report to prison on April 22, but defense attorneys have asked that he remain free on bond pending an appeal.

The prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ray Patricco, also declined to comment about the sentence. He had sought a "substantial" prison term.

During the hearing, Patricco said Garand played a significant role in the fraud, including coming up with the ideas for using sham contracts and leaving a deceptive paper trail. Garand denied those claims.

"The evidence at trial shows that he was much more than a bit player in this deal," Patricco said. "He knew that he was getting involved in a fraud and a serious crime. The seriousness of the offense cannot be overstated in this case."

Garand was the third executive to be sentenced. Former General Re chief executive Ronald Ferguson was sentenced in December to two years in prison and fined $200,000, while former AIG vice president Christian Milton was sentenced to four years in prison and fined $200,000.

Still to be sentenced are Elizabeth Monrad, former General Re chief financial officer, and Robert Graham, a former General Re senior vice president.

AIG executive gets 4 years in prison; it could have been life sentence

AIG executive handed 4-year sentence
Jan. 28, 2009

A federal court in Hartford, Conn., handed a former American International Group Inc. (NYSE:AFF) executive a four-year sentence for his role in a $500 million fraud scheme.

Judge Christopher Droney ignored sentencing guidelines that could have given former vice president of reinsurance Christopher Milton a life sentence, Business Insurance reported Wednesday.

Droney said Milton's actions were deliberate. "He knew this was not a bona fide transaction, but rather one designed to cook the books of AIG," Droney said.

Milton was convicted along with former General Re executives Christopher Garand, Robert Graham and Elizabeth Monrad, and former General Re Chief Executive Officer Ronald Ferguson. Prosecutors said the executives created General Re Corp. for the purpose of making AIG appear wealthier than it was.

The federal government last fall stepped in to rescue AIG, the nation's largest insurance company, with a $150 billion rescue package.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Victory bittersweet for drug liability case victim

March 5, 2009

MARSHFIELD, Vt. (AP) — A Vermont musician who lost her arm after a botched drug injection says the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to uphold a $6.7 million verdict against the pharmaceutical company that made the drug is a victory for consumers.

"I just feel really good for what this means for the whole country," said Diana Levine, 63. "The money, to me, means the company was held accountable for something that didn't need to happen, number one.

"So hopefully, they'll learn their lesson from it and change the label so this doesn't happen to any more people," she said.

Rejecting calls for limits on lawsuits against drug companies, the high court on Wednesday upheld the award against Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, the maker of anti-nausea drug Phenergan. In a 6-3 ruling, the court turned away Wyeth's claim that U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of the drug and its warning label should have shielded the company from Levine's suit.

Levine's nightmare began in 2000.

Suffering from a migraine headache, she went to a local clinic and was given painkillers and received an intramuscular injection of Phenergan. When she still felt nauseated, she was given an "IV-push" of the drug, with the second injection accidentally puncturing an artery. Gangrene set in. Several weeks later, her right arm was amputated.

"It basically took away my whole musical identity. I'd been playing music for 30 years, working with kids, writing songs. I played guitar, piano, bass in a rock band. I couldn't do any of those things anymore," she said.

She lost more than her music and her livelihood.

Suddenly, what was routine became a challenge. The drawers in her 150-year-old farmhouse needed two hands to be opened. A left-hander, she still had one hand to use, but she relied on it to compensate so much that she injured it with overuse.

She couldn't shovel or scrape ice off the windshield of her car, a real hardship in rural Vermont. In summer, she can't open a window without help.

"Nobody, nobody understands what it's like to just operate with one hand. Everything you do requires two hands, even when you think you only need one," she said.

For years, Levine wondered whether Wyeth would ever be held accountable.

On Wednesday, it was.

In the majority opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens said Wyeth could "unilaterally strengthen its warning," especially after it learned of at least 20 cases before Levine's injury in which an injection led to gangrene and amputation.

Monday, March 2, 2009

AIG Price Tag: $1,400 per Taxpayer Family

AIG Price Tag: $1,400 per Taxpayer Family
ABC NEWS Business Unit
March 2, 2009

How much will each American family pay, on average, to bail out beleaguered insurance giant American International Group? Try more than $1,400.

The government's bailout of AIG now tops $160 billion. That and other government bailout spending could result in higher taxes down the road, experts say.
(ABC News/Getty)

The government's newly overhauled rescue package for AIG is $162.5 billion, according to government officials. Divide that by 111,609,629 -- the total number of U.S. households, according to the U.S. Census' 2005-2007 American Community Survey -- and the result is $1,455.97. That's nearly double the maximum tax benefit U.S. couples will receive under the federal stimulus package approved last month...