Judge Won't End Probation For Doctor Convicted In Billing Scam

Judge Won't End Probation For Doctor Convicted In Billing Scam
SEATTLE - U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik has turned down a request for an early end to probation for a former University of Washington doctor convicted in connection with a Medicaid overbilling investigation.

On Monday, Lasnik told Dr. H. Richard Winn, former chairman of the university's neurosurgery department, that he would have to serve his remaining two and half years of probation. But the judge also offered to write a letter to New York authorities encouraging them to grant him a medical license.

Winn feared that he would not be able to obtain a license while he's on probation, and that that will prevent him from working in the operating room at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, where he is now a researcher.

Winn pleaded guilty two years ago to obstruction of justice for asking others at the university to withhold information from investigators looking into a whistle-blower's claim that doctors systematically overbilled Medicare and Medicaid by charging for services they didn't perform, and that they destroyed documents to hide the practice.

Last year, the University of Washington's medical school and two hospitals agreed to pay most of a $35 million settlement stemming from the lawsuit related to Winn's case. Two UW doctors' groups accused in the billing fraud case agreed to pay about one-fifth of the settlement.

Winn was ordered to pay $500,000 in restitution to the government, a $4,000 fine, and to perform 1,000 hours of community service; he has completed those requirements, as well as writing an essay in the Journal of Neurosurgery warning others not to make the same mistakes he did. This summer, Winn's lawyers wrote in court filings, he plans to volunteer with the Army, treating soldiers injured in Iraq.

From December 2002 to May 2003, they told the judge, he performed nearly 1,500 hours of community service at a teaching hospital in Katmandu, Nepal. Dr. S.K. Shilkapar, the university's head of neurosurgery, wrote a letter saying that Winn's contribution was crucial in a country that has just five neurosurgeons for a population of 25 million people.

"Dr. Winn's community service ... provided a very significant benefit to individual patients who were the immediate recipients of Dr. Winn's skill," he wrote. "More important, however, are the enduring contributions that Dr. Winn made to medical education and health care administration that will ensure, in general, a lasting contribution to the Nepalese population and, in specific, to those unfortunate individuals with diseases of the brain and spinal cord."

While Winn has performed admirably while on probation, his plea agreement called for five years of probation, and that's what he is expected to serve, Lasnik said.