A conversation with Do No Harm whistleblowers, Dr. John Bagnato and Charles Rehberg, CPA
"If exposing graft, greed and corruption is a crime in this great country of ours, then we're all in big trouble." Dr. John Bagnato
I have with me Dr. John Bagnato and Charles Rehberg, the two whistleblowers featured in the documentary Do No Harm. In the first part of this interview, I talked with producer, director Rebecca Shanberg. Now, I'd like to give you two an opportunity to chime in. John, would you like to go first?
Non-profit hospitals are the biggest part of the current health care issue because most of the dollar amount of charges incurred by patients come from hospital care. If non-profit hospitals are profiteering and overcharging, then that behavior causes insurance charges to go up and consumers are forced to pay high prices for insurance and cannot afford to chance going without it. That's the crux of the problem as I see it, and until the hospital charges are regulated, there will be no real health care reform.
You stuck your neck out to bring this information to the public's attention. You paid a high price for it. What did you hope would come of your actions?
I hoped that by generating a public debate about abusive hospital billing practices, government would intervene, perhaps create a Hospital and Health Insurance Commission (HHIC) modeled after the SEC or FTC to regulate hospital charges, hospital billing, collection practices and health insurance practices, including insurance cost containment, preexisting conditions, portability, etc. That's real health care reform. The uninsured would be directly benefited without the need for a public option from the get go. If after several years of the HHIC regulation there was still a problem with uninsured, then the need for a public option would be more clearly defined.
Have we made any progress toward that goal?
I don't think the government has the stomach to take on the very powerful AHA lobby and the trillions of dollars they represent (money which has been siphoned out of our health care system).
What, if anything, anything positive has come out of your whistleblowing?
Some good, mostly personally uncomfortable. I had to leave my practice. I still have many doctors who are affiliated with Phoebe who regard me as Satan incarnate and treat me accordingly.
Ouch. Are you bitter about how this all spun out? Does it make you second-guess yourself?
Second-guess, yes. Bitter, no. It is what it is. Such is life.
Charles, how do you feel now about what happened to you for coming forward?
Joan, what happened is a shocking example of how the civil and criminal justice systems can be abused by an out of control corporation and a corrupt prosecutor. Even more astounding is the fact that former District Attorney Ken Hodges is currently running for Georgia Attorney General. Hopefully, Do No Harm and the federal lawsuit I have pending against Ken Hodges will enlighten the voting public and demonstrate why Hodges is unfit to hold the highest legal office in Georgia.
Was it worth the toll it's taken on you and your family?
What we did had to be done, and we were the only people in the position to do it. I did it because I felt compelled to do it, not because I wanted to. No sane person would voluntarily subject themselves or their family to serious criminal charges and years of civil suits if they knew that would be the result of being a whistleblower. When you find yourself in this position, you do what your conscience requires you to do, and hope for the best.
It is rather disappointing how little has changed at Phoebe despite the intense scrutiny of the press, the public and even Sen. Grassley's committee. I think the lawsuits spearheaded by Dickie Scruggs did have a positive effect in many other states, but very little has changed in Georgia.
Do you feel like your life is starting to return to normal?
Things have slowly returned to close to normal. One thing that is hard to change is the damage to my personal and professional reputation resulting from multiple criminal indictments. People routinely Google the names of professionals under consideration for employment. The Internet will forever produce references to felony indictments when my name is googled. That is why the civil suit I have pending against Ken Hodges is so important to me. I need to prove not only that I was innocent, I was, in fact, the victim of the D.A.
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