The Indiana Department of Insurance has announced that the Patient’s Compensation Fund (PCF) reached settlements resolving all of the nearly 350 medical malpractice cases against Mark Weinberger, M.D., of Merrillville. Nearly all of the money is being paid by the PCF, which will likely result in surcharge increases for health care providers.
Specifically, on June 24, 2013, the Indiana Commissioner of Insurance Stephen W. Robertson and two plaintiffs’ law firms announced a $55,000,000 settlement, providing compensation to 282 of Weinberger’s former patients.
On June 28, Commissioner Robertson and another plaintiff’s law firm announced an $11 million settlement for another 60 of Weinberger’s former patients. Of the $11 million payout,
$8.25 million is coming from the PCF and $2.75 million is coming from ProAssurance, Weinberger’s medical malpractice liability carrier.
Approximately nine cases have been to trial, with verdicts ranging from $40,000 to $13 million. As of this month, the 342 remaining cases have now been fully settled by the PCF.
“These cases may have been entertaining for Vanity Fair, but for us it’s just sad,” said Julie Reed, ISMA general counsel. “It’s sad that a physician would engage in that kind of fraudulent behavior, at the expense of patients and payers. It’s sad all of these resources must be committed to dealing with the mess he admitted to creating. And it’s sad that $63 million of hard-earned monies of legitimate Indiana health care providers were paid from the PCF as a result of his selfish actions.”
More on Weinberger’s actions
Weinberger opened his ENT practices, Nose and Sinus Centers, LLC, and Merrillville Center for Advanced Surgery, in 2002. As legal suspicions and allegations started to mount, the self-proclaimed “Nose Doctor” disappeared in September 2004 while vacationing in Greece.
The state moved the next month to suspend his medical license for patient abandonment. The Medical Licensing Board (MLB) of Indiana then revoked his license permanently in May 2005 under mounting evidence of abandonment, malpractice and fraud.
During 2004 and 2005, hundreds of civil lawsuits from former patients began to pile up, alleging Weinberger performed unnecessary and/or negligent surgeries and subjected plaintiffs to unnecessary pain and suffering.
In 2006, Weinberger was indicted by a federal grand jury on 22 counts of health care fraud related to billing insurance companies for procedures never performed. Federal prosecutors alleged he charged $366,600 for 57 surgeries patients never received. Each count carried the potential for a maximum 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Business and legal repercussions
In subsequent years, millions of dollars in Weinberger’s business debts would be discharged through bankruptcies, and he would be profiled in the media, including on “America’s Most Wanted.”
Finally, in December 2009, more than five years after his disappearance, authorities discovered Weinberger living in a tent in the Italian Alps and arrested him. He received medical treatment for a self-inflicted knife wound to the neck and was extradited to the U.S. in early 2010.
Later that year, Weinberger offered to plead guilty to all 22 counts of health care fraud in exchange for a sentence of four years in prison and $366,600 in restitution. The federal judge rejected the lenient agreement, but accepted a second agreement in October 2012. It called for a maximum of 10 years.
The judge ultimately sentenced Weinberger to 84 months, nearly double the federal sentencing guidelines.
“These settlements are an important reminder to all of us that it is our legal and moral duty to police our own profession,” said ISMA President Gordon Hughes, M.D. “When we don’t, we hurt our patients, ourselves and our profession.”
Under Indiana law, physicians must report other physicians who engage in illegal, unlawful, incompetent or fraudulent conduct in the practice of medicine to an appropriate peer review body or the MLB.
At presstime, the ISMA learned the regular July 15 PCF payout would be $112,538,070.28. Read upcoming issues of ISMA Reports for more details.
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