Coding Issues Land Life-Saving Doc Behind Bars
It was not unusual for John Natale, MD, to work from early in the morning to late at night at his cardiothoracic and vascular surgery practice in Arlington, IL. A decade ago, the 63-year-old physician might have been at the top of his game. In particular, he was credited with saving five patients' lives through complicated repairs of abdominal aneurysms.
While Natale distinguished himself with one facet of the Hippocratic Oath, he was certainly not as precise in another more mundane code of conduct that touches on every physician's practice: preparing billings and coding.
Natale says he made simple mistakes. The government believes the doctor tried to rip off taxpayers.
Last year, government prosecutors accused Natale of fraud for using CPT (current procedural terminology) codes that allegedly represented more complicated procedures than the surgical ones he performed. By using such codes on operative reports, he would ostensibly collect higher reimbursements as a result.
Natale is now serving the third month of a 10-month prison sentence after being convicted in U.S. district court last November of two counts of making false statements in connection with surgical codes submitted between August 2002 and October 2003. He was acquitted of two counts of Medicare fraud.