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Medical Profession Tainted By Allegations Doctors Accepted Bribes

May 31, 1994

BONN, Germany (AP) _ Prosecutors are investigating hospitals and doctors who may have taken millions of dollars in kickbacks from manufacturers who charge exorbitant prices for artificial heart valves.

Germany’s largest health insurance fund alleges that bribe money has been flowing for years to clinics that specialize in heart surgery.

There is no proof of that. But the scandal is tainting German health professionals.

Prosecutors in Kassel, near Frankfurt, and in Hamburg are investigating suspects who have not yet been identified.

Gert Nachtigal, president of an insurance network called Allgemeine Ortskrankenkasse, charges that chief doctors and administrators in dozens of hospitals have been receiving bribes of up to $900 per heart valve in exchange for passing along inflated bills.

Nachtigal told RTL television that his association, which represents firms that pay out about $55 billion a year, long had suspected that the price of up to $3,600 charged for heart valves was four to six times higher than normal.

A private investigation turned up the kickbacks, Nachtigal said.

Insurers believe they have been defrauded of some $30 million annually over the past several years.

Karsten Vilmar, president of the Federal Chamber of Doctors, says Nachtigal’s accusation is ″slanderous″ and there is no indication the fraud took place on a big scale.

Federal government officials are siding with Vilmar.

Health Minister Horst Seehofer said Monday evening that ″the vast majority of doctors conduct themselves properly″ and that only a small number of health officials have so far fallen under suspicion.

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