When the American Medical Association convenes in Chicago this week for its annual membership meeting, it will mark the fourth anniversary of the dramatic departure of E. Ratcliff Anderson Jr., whose lawsuit and subsequent dismissal injected a rare dose of scandal and gossip in a usually staid gathering.
After four years of legal arguments, confidential depositions and an ever-expanding court file, the AMA and the organization's former top executive are finally preparing for their day (or weeks) in court. The jury trial in Anderson's wrongful-termination lawsuit is set to start Sept. 6 in Cook County Circuit Court. Clearly, the wheels of justice grind very slowly in Chicago.
Anderson, who was paid about $650,000 a year in salary and benefits, was shown the door 11 days after filing a $5 million breach-of-contract lawsuit that came to light on the second day of the AMA's 2001 annual conference. In his complaint, Anderson claimed the board of trustees blocked him from ousting attorney Michael Ile, who allegedly sold a parcel of AMA land in downtown Chicago for about $13.5 million below market value. The organization's senior leaders protected Ile, Anderson charged, because he provided cover for their blunders in the AMA's embarrassing and short-lived endorsement deal with the Sunbeam Corp. in 1997.
The AMA declined to comment.
Charles Pautsch, one of Anderson's attorneys, says he will seek at least $15 million from the AMA. Win or lose, it will have made a dent in the organization's budget: Pautsch estimates the AMA has already spent millions of dollars in legal fees on a case that he says shouldn't have come to trial.
"He was fired because he took a stand and told the truth," Pautsch says of Anderson, a dermatologist now practicing his specialty and teaching as a professor of medicine at Loyola University Health System in Maywood, a Chicago suburb. "Dr. Anderson is out to resuscitate his reputation."
Man on a mission
Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, who is waging a tireless campaign to change his state's Medicaid program, has found a new argument to bolster his case -- Viagra.
Georgia taxpayers spent more than $250,000 for 1,534 Medicaid recipients to receive erectile dysfunction drugs such as Cialis, Levitra and Viagra from April 2004 through last month, and the governor wants it to stop.
The Republican last week used the nationwide debate over providing convicted sex offenders with the drugs to justify his effort, despite the fact that only five offenders received help getting such drugs in Georgia and the state had already stopped the men from getting them, state officials say.
"It is my belief that filling prescriptions for these types of medications is an inappropriate use of taxpayer money," Perdue said in a letter to Georgia's congressional delegation. "Impotence drugs should be categorized with drugs for fertility, smoking, weight loss and other `lifestyle drugs' that are not required to be covered by Medicaid."
Georgia's Medicaid program pays for the drugs because of a 1998 CMS decision that they are medically necessary, says state Department of Community Health Commissioner Tim Burgess. However, Gary Karr, a spokesman for HHS, says states are allowed to define medical necessity. Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin do not pay for the drugs, he says, but the drugs will be available to treat pulmonary hypertension.
Perdue met late last month with federal officials on his plan to accept a fixed Medicaid payment from federal officials in exchange for flexibility to rewrite the program in his state, including new copayments for all beneficiaries and severe restrictions on access to care.
News of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling last week affirming the primacy of federal drug laws that prohibit the sale of marijuana for medical purposes seems not to have percolated down to San Francisco and Rhode Island.
The day after the ruling a steady stream of customers filed into the Love Shack, a San Francisco storefront where anybody with a city-issued cannabis card can buy $5 pot brownies or spend up to 20 minutes inhaling premium marijuana that sells for $320 an ounce, the Associated Press reports.
Crime fighters in California and other states with medical marijuana laws insisted they were not about to start looking for reasons to shut down the dispensaries. The ruling doesn't strike down state laws allowing medical use of marijuana; it states that if they choose to, the feds could bust people engaging in the practice.
Still, the ruling had Dwion Gates, who was sitting next to a pair of bongs at the Love Shack, feeling "a little bit shaken. I'm hoping that San Francisco will continue to be the compassionate place it has been in allowing places like this to exist legally." Gates, 48, smokes marijuana regularly to treat the pain from a bullet lodged in his back since 1983.
That same day, the Rhode Island Senate approved by a 34-2 margin a medical marijuana bill aimed at making Rhode Island the 11th state to shield from prosecution those who use the drug to treat health problems.
Gov. Don Carcieri, a Republican, has said he will veto the bill if it makes it to his desk. The measure is now before the state House.