Pathology Blawg News Roundup for November 26, 2014


Trial of alleged mastermind of Dr. Joseph Sonnier murder ends in mistrial

A week ago today Judge Jim Bob Darnell determined the jury which heard the sixteen day trial of plastic surgeon Dr. Thomas Michael Dixon was hopelessly deadlocked and declared a mistrial.

Dixon mugshotDr. Dixon was accused of paying David Neal Shepard $9,000 in silver bars to murder Dr. Joseph Sonnier, chief pathologist at Covenant Medical Center in Lubbock Texas.  Dr. Sonnier was found shot and stabbed at his home in July 2012

Mr. Shepard pled guilty to murdering Dr. Sonnier in 2013 and was sentenced to life without parole in September 2013.

According to ABC News, five members of the jury, which deliberated for 7 whole hours over a two day period, wanted to convict Dr. Dixon of capital murder, but two jurors were not prepared to convict him of capital murder, murder or manslaughter.

Dr. Dixon is still in jail on $10 million bond, and could be re-tried on capital murder charges at a later date if the prosecutor chooses to do so.

Illinois Senate overrides governor’s amendatory veto of anti-markup legislation

The Illinois Senate has overridden the amendatory veto Gov. Pat Quinn issued on August 5, 2014 by a 39-13 margin.

If the Illinois House also votes to override, Illinois will become the ninth state to have anti-markup legislation on its books.

ACLA hires Paul Clement and Laurence Tribe to fight regulation of laboratory-developed tests

The American Clinical Laboratory Association (ACLA) has hired former Solicitor General Paul Clement and Harvard Constitutional Law professor Laurence Tribe to help it oppose regulation of laboratory-developed tests (LDTs) by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The FDA announced its intent to begin regulating LDTs on July 31, 2014, and the ACLA announced its opposition to the FDA’s move literally on the same day.

Health Diagnostic Laboratory to lay off 132 employees

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Dr. Franklin Cockerill claims he felt intimidated by the Mayo Clinic

Dr. Franklin Cockerill, Chief Laboratory Officer of Quest Diagnostics, responded to the lawsuit filed against him by the Mayo Clinic and claimed he felt intimidated by CEO Dr. John Noseworthy and feared Mayo would retaliate against him and his family. Readers will recall Dr. Cockerill, who was chairman of the Mayo Clinic Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology and chief of Mayo Medical Laboratories (MML) until September 30, 2014, left Mayo to work for Quest. Soon after, … [Continue reading]

Dr. Robert Wadley responds to urine drug toxicology testing article

A week ago today, I wrote a blog post that discussed a Wall Street Journal article about urine drug toxicology testing. A large part of the WSJ article (and my post) focused on Dr. Robert Wadley, a pain physician in North Carolina who performs in-office urine drug toxicology testing and also owns a urine drug toxicology laboratory called AvuTox. Dr. Wadley reached out with some comments about my post and the WSJ article earlier this morning, and in the interest of allowing both sides to … [Continue reading]

Important update regarding CMS’ 2015 ancillary services packaging policy

Earlier this month I wrote an article that included a summary of the ancillary services packaging policy the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) implemented in its 2015 Hospital Outpatient Prospective Payment/Ambulatory Surgical Center Payment Systems Final Rule. That summary stated CMS had: ...finalized its proposal to package the technical component of select ancillary services, including many anatomic pathology services, into a single unified payment for services provided … [Continue reading]

Florida laboratory kickback scheme results in two arrests

David Brock Lovelace, Vice President of Cornerstone Health Specialists, and Dale DuBois, managing member of Healthcare Marketing Florida LLC, were arrested last week and charged with conspiracy to defraud Medicare and paying illegal kickbacks for clinical laboratory testing referrals. Unfortunately, I do not know much more than what is available in this short Department of Justice press release, as the case is so new the complaint is not yet publicly available.  I will try to find out … [Continue reading]

Yup. All those urine drug tests are totally necessary, doctor.

Robert Wadley, MD
(Brier Creek Pain and Spine YouTube ad)

The Wall Street Journal recently published a great article that once again perfectly demonstrates why physician self-referral and urine drug toxicology testing are a dangerous combination. Doctors play Medicare "Whac-a-Mole" The article begins by discussing how physicians are testing the urine of senior citizens for drugs they rarely use, like cocaine, heroin, PCP (angel dust), etc, at "soaring rates", and how many pain doctors make more money from urine drug testing than they do treating … [Continue reading]

Laboratory analyzer manufacturers and reference laboratories panic over Ebola

Ebola virus (NBC News)

USA Today last week put out an interesting article that discussed the seemingly irrational fears some laboratories and makers of laboratory analyzers have about Ebola. With respect to lab analyzer manufacturers, this paragraph sums it up: Several leading manufacturers of high-tech diagnostic devices have alerted hospital laboratories that they will restrict service, support and warranties for equipment used to test blood and organ functions for Ebola patients. Fearing infections, some … [Continue reading]

$125,000 settlement reached against forensic pathologist Dr. Norman Thiersch

Snohomish County death investigator Deborah Hollis has reached a $125,000 settlement with county authorities in a lawsuit that accused Snohomish County Washington Medical Examiner Dr. Norman Thiersch of sexual discrimination, failure to accommodate her diabetes, retaliation, and splashing her with blood during autopsies.  In addition to the financial award, Ms. Hollis will keep her job at the Medical Examiner's office and will be sent to Texas for "forensics training". Ms. Hollis filed her … [Continue reading]

Pathology researcher sues anonymous commenters for defamatory comments

Fazlul Sarkar, PhD (Cancer Therapy)

Fazlul Sarkar, PhD, has filed a lawsuit against anonymous commenters on the website (the owners/webmasters of which are also anonymous), alleging comments submitted to the site about his research were false and defamatory and led to the loss of a job offer at the University of Mississippi and loss of tenure at Wayne State University. Facts/Allegations The complaint starts with a description of Dr. Sarkar's 35 year career as a pathology researcher, which, from all outward … [Continue reading]

OIG announces intent to scrutinize independent clinical laboratories in 2015

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the Department of Health and Human Services has announced it plans to "review Medicare payments to independent clinical laboratories to determine laboratories’ compliance with selected billing requirements" in 2015. OIG made this announcement on page 16 of its "Work Plan for Fiscal Year 2015": Selected independent clinical laboratory billing requirements (new) We will review Medicare payments to independent clinical laboratories to determine … [Continue reading]

CMS releases 2015 OPPS/ASC and PFS/CLFS Final Rules

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on Halloween night released the 2015 Final Rules for the Physician Fee/Clinical Laboratory Fee Schedules and the Hospital Outpatient Prospective Payment/Ambulatory Surgical Center Payment Systems. Obviously there is quite a bit in there, and for this initial article I will only hit the highlights. Packaging of Ancillary Services Probably the most significant aspect of these Final Rules is that CMS has finalized its proposal to package … [Continue reading]

Halloween costume tips for pathology types by Michael Farmer

I received an email earlier today from Mr. Michael Farmer, manager of McEvoy and Farmer, a market research firm that specializes in in-vitro diagnostics and anatomic pathology, about Halloween costumes. Mr. Farmer, whom I have never met in person, obviously has a well-exercised sense of humor, and he uses that sense of humor to write articles that are very light and easy to read yet contain insightful information on the current state of the pathology and lab medicine industry. As with … [Continue reading]

Palmetto GBA gives the College of American Pathologists the LCD it wanted

Palmetto GBA, the Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC) for Jurisdiction 11 (the Carolinas and Virginias), has just released a very extensive draft local coverage determination (LCD) policy that addresses the overutilization of immunohistochemical (IHC) and special stains by pathologists for breast, gastrointestinal, prostate, lung, gynecologic, genitourinary, skin, soft tissue, central and peripheral nervous systems, bone marrow and tumor chemosensitivity specimens. It would appear the … [Continue reading]

Laboratory whistleblower Chris Riedel sued by different laboratory whistleblowers

A US district judge in New Jersey recently denied a motion to dismiss filed by laboratory whistleblower Chris Riedel of Hunter Laboratories in a lawsuit brought against him by laboratory whistleblowers Fair Laboratory Practices Associates (FLPA) and NPT Associates (NPT). I only just now came across the suit, which was originally filed in April 2014, but it is still interesting nonetheless and far from being resolved. The Parties FLPA and NPT are separate general partnerships formed in … [Continue reading]

21st Century Oncology in OIG crosshairs for urine FISH self-referral

(Wall Street Journal)

John Carreyrou of the Wall Street Journal published yet another excellent article about pathology self-referral last week that focuses on 21st Century Oncology and its urine fluorescence in-situ hybridization (FISH) referrals. Basically, the article provides yet another example (as if any more were necessary at this point) of how physicians exploit the in-office ancillary services exception to the Stark Law for their own personal financial gain. 21st Century was founded in 1983, but did … [Continue reading]