By JIM REED
Ziff Law Managing Partner
It was a very long time coming but an arbitrator has recently awarded $140 million to 255 people who were once patients of a downstate orthopedist who is accused of making mistakes during surgery, completing unneeded surgeries on healthy patients, and committing numerous crimes.
Spyros Panos, the disgraced former doctor, was considered a successful specialist with a thriving Dutchess County practice, performing 15 to 20 surgeries a day, lawyers for the plaintiffs said. But the reality was he was a con man who inflated charges, billed for surgeries he didn’t perform, and put hundreds of patients’ lives in danger.
As part of the medical malpractice settlement, Panos, of Hopewell Junction, N.Y., remarkably will not admit to medical wrongdoing, according to published reports. The settlement was reached by National Arbitration and Mediation representatives.
Hundreds of complaints were filed against Panos and his former employer, Mid Hudson Medical Group. Retired New York State and appellate court judge Peter Skelos and Judge Paul Marks of the New York State Supreme Court removed the cases from the court system and organized a plaintiffs committee to lead the massive litigation in order to unburden courts downstate.
The long-awaited completion of the settlement is expected to lead to the dispersal of awards to individual plaintiffs ranging from $15,500 to $3.8 million. Some of the lawsuits date back to 2009.
This case is an indictment of many problems in the medical world:
- A doctor driven by maximizing appointments and surgeries per day.
- A medical group that clearly knew he was billing for more care than he could competently provide.
- An indicted and convicted doctor still performing medical exams for insurance companies designed to deprive deserving insureds of their benefits.
- Failure of the medical profession to police a known dishonest doctor.
Panos pleaded guilty to one count of felony health care fraud in November 2013 and admitted running a scheme worth millions of dollars that defrauded many health insurance providers.
Panos served time in federal prison and was released in March 2017, but he never stopped behaving like a criminal, prosecutors said, and faced new federal charges in April 2018: health care fraud, wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft. He had served two-and-a-half years of a four-and-a-half-year sentence following his initial guilty plea.
Federal prosecutors said Panos, before serving his original prison sentence, stole another doctor’s identity to bcollect about $876 ,000 in medical and workers’ compensation case reviews that he was not licensed to perform. Prosecutors said in Connecticut, for example, he recommended denying most of the 200 workers’ comp claims he reviewed, according to state officials.
Court records showed that Panos and a family member also set up a company and bank account in Hong Kong to stash the workers’ compensation case money. He had earned $240,000 reviewing cases before going to prison the first time.
Panos is currently free on $1 million bond and on electronic home monitoring. He continues to deny any malpractice and has refused to approve the settlement and has pleaded not guilty to the federal charge.
The awards come about six years after Panos gave up his medical license and admitted guilt to the health care fraud charge in the U.S. District Court in New York City.
The civil cases will be paid by Medical Liability Mutual Insurance Company and Healthcare Professionals Insurance Company, court officials said.
And for all of the patients affected by Panos’ fraudulent schemes? Will they be reviewed again? Some insurance companies, such as Anthem Inc. and The Hartford, said they have notified patients and are evaluating cases where Panos was involved.
The fate of other patients’ cases is unknown, according to news reports.
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