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Coding Issues Land Life-Saving Doc Behind Bars

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, February 14, 2013

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.

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17 comments on "Coding Issues Land Life-Saving Doc Behind Bars"


Sarah (11/20/2013 at 10:06 PM)
Ann I was a nurse for Dr. Natale I assisted himb on many surgeries. I find your comment disqusting and everything that is wrong with medicine. Dr. Natale life was his patient's, he was one of the best surgeon's in practice, and many of us medical practitioner's sent our family to him including my mom. I think your confused! This doctor was the best in the business more will fall just like him.

Ann (10/22/2013 at 5:46 PM)
My family member is a victim of this mans unnecessary surgery and fraudulent behavior Her leg was sliced up and down when a simple incision would have repaired her problem Her choice to not pursue this due to the further duress it would cause is lucky for Dr Natale

Ann (2/26/2013 at 8:28 PM)
Dr. Thomas Painter was the doc that went to the prosecutors to report Dr. Natale in an effort to remove the doc he considered his "economic competitor" (as the prosecution stated). Unfortunatesly, over time too many that came to see Dr. Painter at Northwest Hospital...heard of Dr. Natale and his amazingly positive surgical record (never loosing even One patient on the operating table)... And as a result moved from Painter to Natale. Now Painter had been sued, and often, while Natale never, not once, had been sued. That is extremely unusual...and Painter was twisted with jealousy and resentment.... Painter went to the US Attorney's hoping to sell them the prosecution ...the GOvernment wanting to prove awful doctors were thieves stealing from Medicare in light of the publics outrage over Obamacare...wanted the show trial ..and the prosecution...WHen not one Doc approached would agree to testify ageing Natale as the Exoert Witness....Painter went out and got an old med School chum..who by the grace of the US government was given a lofty promotion...and Painters buddy agreed to testify.... Don't you just feel slimed reading about this? What the heck has happened to our government? Are they willing to intimidate and incarcerate so other Docs and all patients comply??? Such an incredible injustice ...Free Doctor Natale...Free a good decent, competent surgeon...He did no wrong!! If there was no exact code for what they called a "coding error"...If MEDICARE HAS TO CREATE 1500 NEW CODES EVERY YEAR....WHY ARE THERE NOT 1500 Other Docs in Prison every year! This is political...and a disgrace...Patrick Fitzgerald himself should be in prison for this twisted prosecution ...Shameful Free Dr. Natale