The first time cardiologist Robert Graor lost his Ohio license to practice medicine was in 1995, after he was convicted of 10 felony theft counts for stealing $1,000,000 from the Cleveland Clinic and sentenced to three years in jail.
The second time was in 2003, after he’d won back the license following his release from prison. This time, the Ohio Board of Medicine found he repeatedly misrepresented his credentials over a two-decade period and permanently barred him from practicing medicine.
That didn’t stop Graor from participating in Medicare, the government’s health insurance program for the elderly and disabled. In 2012, Medicare paid $660,005 for him to treat patients in New Mexico, which gave him a license to practice in 1998.
In the Ohio case, state officials gave the doctor a second chance after he stole $1,000,000 in research funds from the Cleveland Clinic, where he was chairman of vascular medicine. His wife testified the money was used to restore their home.
In 2002, the board determined that Graor had repeatedly lied to employers that he was board certified in internal medicine. It found that Graor took the exam administered by the American Board of Internal Medicine in 1981, but failed.
In 2003, his Ohio license was permanently revoked.
“Doctor Graor obviously did not learn his lesson, as he continued to engage in lies and deceit,” wrote Ohio Common Pleas Court Judge David Cain in upholding the board action. “This time around, the Board had no reasonable choice but to permanently revoke his certification.”
Graor obtained his New Mexico license in 1998, after his release from jail but before Ohio officials gave him his license back in that state. When notified Ohio had permanently revoked his license in 2003, New Mexico officials placed Graor on probation. In 2008 the New Mexico medical board ended his probationary period and he has no restrictions on his license today.
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At least seven doctors who lost a medical license because of misconduct collected a total of $6,500,000 from Medicare in 2012, according to federal data. The list includes physicians guilty of gross malpractice; a brutal sexual assault; violating prescription drug laws. Their continued participation in the $600,000,000 program reflects an insane tolerance of allowing providers with criminal backgrounds to bill taxpayers at their discretion.
“The situation is absolutely ridiculous,” says Sidney Wolfe, the physician who founded Public Citizen, a Washington consumer-advocacy group. “When doctors are thrown out of one state, that should be enough to exclude them from Medicare.”
The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which administers Medicare, released details of its payments to doctors earlier this month for the first time in 30 years. So far, only 2012 payment data has been released. Officials said they hope that making the information available will enable private researchers and the public to help ferret out fraud in the system.
And Lord knows the system needs help.
The state of California revoked the license of Doctor Sean Steele in February 2012 after his guilty plea to battery against a woman, a sexual assault in the back seat of his chauffeured car in Las Vegas. He was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine and complete impulse-control counseling.
The judge who heard the board’s case against Steele in California said the doctor “savagely” attacked the woman and called his actions “extremely egregious.” The judge said Steele lied throughout the case.
The woman, an attorney who met Steele through an online dating service, suffered severe injury to her genitals, according to the California board decision.
Steele is still in good standing with Medicare, which paid him $394,660 for his services.
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Surgeon Swaroop Nyshadham lost his licenses in Alabama and New York following charges of shoddy patient care in a case in which a woman died. He continues to practice in Georgia and Medicare paid $22,134 for his work in 2012.
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Doctor Alexander T. Kalk surrendered his Missouri license in a settlement agreement with the state Board of Registration for the Healing Arts. He now practices in Illinois. Medicare paid him $3,500,000 for his services in 2012.
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We are indebted to investigative reporters David Armstrong in Boston and Caroline Chen in New York for their outstanding research in this story.
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