Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Florida Doctors Lead The Fight Against Change

Dear Friends and Colleagues:
An article in today's (12/29/2009) New York Times, "Health Lobby Takes Fight to the States," reports that Florida is debating a proposed amendment to its state constitution that would try to block, at least symbolically, much of the proposed federal health care overhaul on the grounds that it tramples individual liberty. Its 42 co-sponsors, all Republicans, were almost all recipients of outsized campaign contributions from major health care interests, a total of about $765,000 in 2008. Last year, for example, the drug industry poured more than $20 million into political contributions in states around the country. In California alone, the industry spent an additional $80 million on advertising to beat back a California ballot measure intended to push down drug prices. The idea of amending state constitutions to block the core of the federal health care legislation, including the requirement that individuals and businesses buy insurance, began at the conservative Goldwater Institute in Arizona, the state where the first such measure will appear on the ballot next year. The states where the amendment has been introduced are also places where the health care industry has spent heavily on political contributions in recent years, according to figures from the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Over the last six years, health care interests have spent $394 million on contributions in states around the country; about $73 million of that went to those 14 states. Of that, health insurance companies spent $18.2 million, according to the institute. In Florida, where health interests have given a total of about $32 million over the last six years, the state medical association has become an especially important backer of the proposed amendment. In contrast to the American Medical Association, the Florida Medical Association has come out firmly against the current Congressional proposals, and a spokeswoman said the Florida group had embraced the proposed state amendment “to protect Florida from being forced into a federal government mandate that would hurt patients.” Dr. Madelyn E. Butler, president elect of the Florida Medical Association, said, “We are trying to ameliorate the effects of national health care reform on the State of Florida.” James Greer, chairman of the Florida Republican Party, said he too supported the proposal, which could be on the ballot in 2010 or more likely in 2012. Whatever its legal weight, Mr. Greer said, its mere presence on the ballot would give it political force. Its time that doctors stand up against those powerful interest groups. In some areas in Miami (Hialeah) the Uninsured rate has surpassed 50%. Many of my patients will be forced to drop health insurance coverage in 2010 because they cannot afford the high premiums. One of my family members was told that her back pain constitutes a pre-existing condition and her employer informed her that his small group insurance premiums will increase if he decides to continue providing coverage for her. As physicians we have the moral obligation to protect our patients interests and to stand up against the powerful and mighty insurance industry. Enough is enough!

Have a Happy New Year.

Yours Bernd

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Doctors in the News

Well, I guess we can add another "present" under the Christmas tree.
Attached more information about the Zachariah saga which keeps getting juicier and more embarrassing.
Why does greed and lust for power seem to affect doctors more than others?
Because we do not speak up and thereby nurture those behaviors.
Its time to change our approaches and question the format and structure of our organizations.
Merry Christmas

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Posted on Thu, Dec. 24, 2009
2 Broward doctors settle insider trading case

The former chairman of the Florida Board of Medicine and another Fort Lauderdale physician have agreed to pay substantial sums to settle federal civil charges of insider stock trading.

Dr. Mammen P. Zachariah, appointed to the board of medicine by Gov. Jeb Bush in 2004, and Dr. Sheldon Nassberg allegedly reaped illegal windfalls by acting on stock tips supplied by Mammen Zachariah's brother, prominent Broward heart specialist and major Republican fundraiser Dr. Zachariah P. Zachariah.

Zach Zachariah, who has raised millions of dollars for Republican causes and candidates, including both presidents Bush, faces similar charges, but has declined to settle his case. A federal magistrate has set trial for Aug. 23, 2010.

That trial promises to offer a unique look at Republican fundraising and how political access is bought and sold. Among the expected highlights is witness testimony from two of South Florida's better-known corporate chieftains -- The Geo Group's George Zoley and Phil Frost, formerly of IVAX.

The Zachariah brothers and Nassberg, all of whom practice at Fort Lauderdale's Holy Cross Hospital, were named in a May 2008 civil complaint brought by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The complaint accuses them of collecting more than a half-million dollars in illegal profits during a fraudulent stock-trading scheme in 2005.

Without admitting or denying the government's allegations, Mammen Zachariah, 61, agreed to pay nearly $136,000 in what a judge labeled ``ill-gotten gains,'' plus an equal amount as a civil penalty. Nassberg, an endocrinologist, agreed to similar payments totaling $52,668. He admitted no wrongdoing. Both men are required to pay up by the end of the month.

The final judgments signed by U.S. Magistrate Linnea Johnson on Wednesday also include permanent injunctions that restrain both doctors from future securities law violations.

Zach Zachariah, another past chairman of the Florida Board of Medicine, is alleged to have used nonpublic information to buy and sell shares of two unrelated Florida companies, Miami-based generic drug maker IVAX and Sarasota's Correctional Services Corp. (CSC).

Zachariah was on IVAX's board of directors in July 2005 when company chairman Phil Frost informed him that IVAX had agreed to be acquired by Teva Pharmaceuticals for $26 a share. Within minutes, Zachariah bought 35,000 IVAX shares for about $21 a share, the SEC said. At the time of the alleged purchase, company insiders were forbidden from trading in IVAX stock.

Zachariah also allegedly tipped off his brother, who bought 2,000 IVAX shares for about $23 a share on the last trading day before the deal was announced in July 25. Zachariah allegedly used inside information to make even more money trading shares of CSC, which was acquired by The GEO Group of Boca Raton in 2005. According to the SEC, the Zachariah brothers and Nassberg turned $380,000 in quick profits.

The government says Zachariah acquired that inside knowledge in a couple of ways. One was through his son Zachariah ``Reggie'' Zachariah, who worked in GEO's mergers and acquisitions department. Reggie Zachariah has denied under oath tipping off his father to the deal. Another was through Zachariah's own moonlighting work for GEO. The SEC says Zachariah made ``millions of dollars'' as a corporate consultant, service provider and lobbyist for GEO, a giant prison contractor once known as Wackenhut Corrections.

Zachariah, who owns a $2.3 million home on the Intracoastal Waterway in secluded Sea Ranch Lakes, said under oath last winter that he was paid to provide access for GEO chief executive George Zoley to top federal and state Republican politicians.

Those politicians include former President George W. Bush, former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, former Florida Senate President Tom Lee and House Speaker Alan Bense and former attorney general Charlie Crist, now Florida's governor.

Dan Christensen, a former Miami Herald reporter and columnist for The Daily Business Review, is founding editor of, a nonprofit online-only newspaper.