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Rural doctor and his patients threatened by fraud claims

If you brought the entire county to New York City, the residents of Carroll County, Tennessee, would fill slightly more than half of Yankee Stadium. But the people there aren't these days interested in trips to baseball venues. They are instead worried that one of the few doctors working in their rural area might be taken away from them by the federal government.

Dr. Bryan Merrick has been practicing medicine in the county for more than 30 years, but that could come to an end if he is sanctioned for Medicare billing fraud. Many people in Carroll County say he's guilty of nothing more than a clerical error and that the federal government should leave their doctor alone.

"I was shocked. I had no idea these problems existed," said Merrick. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) claims the doctor should have known; after all, CMS says he submitted billing for 10 patients who were dead.

Merrick acknowledges that the allegation sounds bad. "It does. It does initially."

He said the billing is the result of several types of clerical errors: mistakes by a billing clerk and patients with identical first and last names. Other cases involved patients who had just been discharged from hospitals, he said.

Unaware that they had just died, the 62-year-old doctor adjusted their medications and then billed Medicare, as required, for his services. He said that when you add up all of the mistakes, the total billed to Medicare was $670.

He said it's beyond belief that a doctor would jeopardize his career for $670.

Merrick is one of only two certified internal medical physicians in the county.

"What are we going to do if we lose him?" asked Carroll County Mayor Kenny McBride. "It's hard to recruit doctors to rural Tennessee."

The mayor of neighboring McKenzie says "lives will be lost" if the doctor's Medicare billing privilege is revoked.

We don't know what will happen to the doctor or the patients who depend on him. We do know that physicians facing licensing issues here in New York City can speak with an attorney experienced in license defense about their legal options.

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