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UPDATE: Two doctors resign after billing fraud found at MU Health System

Friday, June 1, 2012 | 5:59 p.m. CDT; updated 5:57 p.m. CDT, Saturday, June 2, 2012
Harold A. Williamson Jr., vice chancellor of the University of Missouri Health System, said at a press conference Friday at Acuff Auditorium that two doctors in the Radiology Department resigned after a federal investigation cited billing fraud.

COLUMBIA — Two doctors in the Radiology Department at MU Health Care have resigned after a federal investigation revealed fraudulent billing practices. 

MU physicians Kenneth Rall and Michael Richards resigned from the university after preliminary findings released by the U.S. Attorney's office in Kansas City alleged billing fraud in the Radiology Department. 

The vice chancellor of MU Health Care, Harold Williamson, announced the departures at a Friday afternoon press conference.

The investigation is still ongoing, but Williamson said the initial findings were "troubling enough that we felt we needed to act immediately." 

At the news conference, Williamson also announced that Robert Churchill, dean of the School of Medicine, will retire in October. Churchill was not implicated in the investigation. 

Williamson said he believed the billing violations are confined to Rall and Richards. He said the two doctors violated Medicare rules for billing by certifying they viewed certain images, when in fact they had not.

At issue is whether Rall and Richards reviewed X-ray images after they had been reviewed by a resident physician. Medicare policy allows a resident to initially read an image and work with the patient's doctor who prescribed the X-ray. Before Medicare will pay for the image, however, an attending radiologist must also review them. 

"We believe these two doctors sometimes claimed they had actually completed this second review without actually looking at the image," Williamson said.

The U.S. Attorney's Office is investigating the billing fraud in payments to Medicare, Medicaid and TRICARE, a health care program under the Department of Defense.  

Williamson said that while MU officials "have no evidence patient care was compromised," the health system will pay for an outside doctor to re-read the images for patients who request it. 

Any criminal charges resulting from the investigation will be determined by the U.S. Department of Justice. 

Rall was the chair of the radiology department when the violations occurred, Williamson said. Rall resigned from his radiology post in December 2011, one month into the investigation. He was succeeded by interim chairman, Amolak Singh. 

Before this investigation, Rall faced felony charges in 1986, according to court records. 

Despite this, he returned to the School of Medicine in 1998. 

In 2011, Rall was named Doctor of the Year by the Boone County Medical Society. 

Rall's pay of $571,200 for the 2011-2012 academic year makes him one of the highest paid University of Missouri professors. Neither he nor Richards will receive a severance or buyout, Williamson said. 

Williamson said the amount of money involved in the billing fraud had yet to be determined. 

While not implicated of any wrongdoing in the investigation, Churchill's retirement was announced Friday. Williamson said Churchill did not want any distractions stemming from the investigation to take away from the work at the medical school.  

Churchill became interim dean of MU's School of Medicine in 2008 succeeding Dr. William Crist, according to a previous Missourian report
  

Churchill came to MU in 1987 as chair and professor of radiology from Loyola University in Maywood, Ill., where he completed medical school, residency and fellowship training. 

As dean, Churchill oversaw more than 675 faculty members, 1,500 staff members and 1,000 medical students, residents, fellows and other students completing advanced degrees.
 

Before the Friday news conference, the UM System Board of Curators met in a closed-door meeting. Williamson said he did not know if the resignations in the medical school were the reason for the meeting, but "would not be surprised" if they were.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Kansas City said they could not comment on the investigation, citing U.S. Department of Justice policy.

Missourian Reporter Alli Inglebright contributed to this report.

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