The TV show "Dirty Jobs" features people who inspect sewers, collect roadkill and scavenge bat caves. They ought to do a show on Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.
On March 8, Whitfield’s committee questioned three malodorous physicians — James Ballard, Ray Harron and his son Andrew Harron — who’ve been turning out high-volume "diagnoses" of silicosis in people who evidently aren’t sick. All three wrapped themselves in the Fifth Amendment.
Working in cahoots with trial lawyers and seedy "medical" screening companies, these doctors are some of the bottom-feeders dredged up in a Texas federal court last year by U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack. Their scheme became obvious when silicosis claims in Mississippi leaped from 76 in 2001 to more than 10,000 the following year. When those cases reached Jack’s court, she found that a dozen physicians had generated almost all of the diagnoses.
Ray Harron holds the record of 515 diagnoses of asbestosis in one day. Do the math. That’s about one minute for each X-ray.
And then there are the X-ray screening operations. The king of sleaze in this category seems to be N&M Inc. of Alabama. Owner Heath Mason said 99 percent of his revenue ($25 million since 1996) comes from trial lawyers.
He said that some of them, like the Cherry Campbell law firm of Waco, Texas, pay only for positive diagnoses. Cherry Campbell is one of 13 law firms Whitfield is now investigating. He wants to know exactly what arrangements they made with the likes of N&M and physicians who speed-read X-rays and then take the Fifth.
And what does the Association of Trial Lawyers of America say about all this? In a letter to Whitfield, ATLA president Ken Suggs disingenuously changed the subject, urging the committee to "work to develop national standards and laws to protect workers from silicosis, and address the continued failure of corporations to provide adequate safety protections to their workers."
Here’s a better suggestion for the committee: Use your powers to protect the public from doctors, screening outfits and trial lawyers who for years have been cheating the legal system for profit, and address the continued failure of the legal profession to drum these predators out of its ranks.
Suggs obviously doesn’t have the stomach for that job. Congressman Ed Whitfield does, and he deserves great credit for digging into a foul business that has run far too long.