Friday, August 28, 2009

The Medical Mafia - What goes on in Vegas stays in Vegas!

It was reported in various media outlets today, that the federal government won a round in an effort to prosecute a cabal of doctors and lawyers who allegedly conspired and schemed to lie in personal injury cases in order to inflate settlements and rip off clients. The investigation that was launched five years ago has resulted in charges that a former army medic and supposed CIA operative, recruited top spine doctors to serve as expert witnesses and treat injured plaintiffs using his (the former medics) sway over lawyers.

In 2007, the government charged Howard Awand and personal injury lawyer Noel Gage with conspiring to protect two compliant surgeons from a malpractice lawsuit after their patient underwent spine surgery and became a paraplegic. The two spine surgeons named were John Thalgott, who turned government witness, and Mark Kabins who was indicted earlier and is awaiting trial. The "Medical Mafia" dubbed by the conspirators, has more twists and turns than a high speed James Bond movie.

Awand is scheduled to go on trial in the fall and Gage is slated to go on trial in February 2010. In light of the governments victory, it is precisely this type of scheme that results in outrageous settlements, resulting in higher premiums for the public. Yet, this case will produce some interesting twists and turns. So who will crack under pressure when the government gets their day? If I were a gambling man, and that's Las Vegas style, I am betting the house that Awand rolls over if he is looking at spending many years in an orange jumpsuit. City Life reported that in early to mid-2000, Awand recruited Kabins and Thalgott to join his network of doctors and lawyers, in August of 2000, Kabins and Thalgott operate on the plaintiff and because of complications she is paralyzed. The plaintiff hires Noel Gage to sue Thalgott and Kabins for medical malpractice, Awand gets wind that the plaintiff is going to sue two doctors in his stable and meets with Gage to persuade him not to sue Thalgott and Kabins. Gage holds a secret meeting with all of the conspirators and they decide to sue an anesthesiologist, and the rest is history.

So here is the million dollar question, why is Senator Grassley and his band of gypsies chasing surgeons like Dr. Polly and Kuklo when there are potentially bigger fish to fry? The Spine Blogger wants to know what its readers think!


  1. The Vegas situation appears to address an outright criminal enterprise. Sen G appears to address situations which technically could be in conformance with existing laws, but which compromise objective science and increase the costs of healthcare. Two different things altogether. Note that Sen G does not work for the Justice department.

  2. Don't alleged criminal acts compromise and increase the cost of healthcare? These large settlements are passed on to the consumer! Besides, I would think that Grassley has enough of firepower (he is a US Senator) to influence the ongoing investigation into this alleged impropriety.

  3. Any settlement is passed on to the consumer, directly, and less directly through defensive medical practices and unreasonable amounts of documentation. This argument better fits a discussion on the much needed but never going to happen tort reform.