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updated: 1/18/2013 6:34 PM

Physicians challenge S. Barrington doctor's conviction

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The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons is asking to intervene in challenging the conviction of a South Barrington doctor who was sentenced in September to 10 months in prison for making false statements in reports as part of what prosecutors say was a scheme that defrauded Medicare out of at least $10,000.

In May, a federal jury convicted John Natale, 64, of making false statements, but acquitted him of health care and mail fraud. Natale, a former vascular and thoracic surgeon at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights, also was fined $40,000 and ordered to perform community service upon his release from prison.

Natale is serving his sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution, a medium-security prison for men in Oxford, Wis.

Jurors determined Natale, who specialized in repairing abdominal aortic aneurysms, lied in reports about the extent of two surgeries he performed in 2004.

In a recent motion for leave to file an amicus brief in federal court, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons says misstatements in medical reports should not be criminalized because it would "have a profoundly chilling effect on the practice of medicine."

"It is unprecedented to hold medically imprecise, disfavored, or even false statements in an operative report to be a crime in the absence of billing fraud," the association argues in its brief. The association claims the government offered no proof of criminal intent by Natale to defraud Medicare. It is asking the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit to reverse the conviction.

In the surgeries Natale performed nearly 10 years ago, "the patients survived and did well despite an expected mortality of 90 percent," according to an association news release.

Natale "incorrectly stated that he had used a bifurcation or Y-graft in repairing an abdominal aortic aneurysm, instead of the straight tube graft actually used," the news release states. "This made no difference in the billing, and there was no evidence that Natale 'knowingly' and 'willfully' made a false statement in order to violate the law."

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