The American Medical Association charged yesterday that the Department of Health, Education and Welfare made significant errors in releasing a list of physicians who supposedly made more than $100,000 each from Medicare in 1975.
A sampling of 112 physicians on the list of 409 doctors released last week by HEW showed an error rate of 71.4 per cent, according to AMA spokesman Joseph Breu.
One of the purported errors involved Joseph Watson, a 76-year-old Chicago pediatrician who, HEW said received $233,871 from Medicare during 1975. In fact, said the AMA, Watson has been retired and living in Arizona for the past 12 years.
Another listing showed Dr. Milton Hamolsky of Providence, R.I., receiving $302,452. The AMA said he is on salary at a Providence hospital and received $625 in Medicare payments during 1975.
In the Washington area, heart surgeon Charles A. Hufnagel was listed as receiving $153,144. A check by The Washington Post shows he bills for himself and two other cardiac surgeons.
Other errors claimed by the AMA included payment of $358,138 to a doctor who died in 1974 and the inclusion of "Detroit General Hospital" as a private practitioner making $173,000.
Of the 112 physicians sampled by the AMA, the listings were found to be "probably correct" in only 32 cases. The AMA says that in 57 cases physicians were erroneously listed as solo practitioners when they were collecting for groups of four to 60 physicians. In four cases the amount of income listed was incorrect and in 19 cases both the solo practitioner designation and the amount were incorrect, the AMA said.
Michael Naver, head of the Social Security Administration's press office, said it is "unlikely" that the errors are of the magnitude alleged by AMA but said that each one would be checked by the agency's regional offices and a corrected list will be issued if warranted. He urged that the AMA submit any mistakes it has found to HEW.
Breu said a list of the purported errors would be sent soon to HEW Secretary Joseph A. Califano Jr.
Naver said it would be defensible for HEW to list a doctor as a "solo practitioner" if he employed other doctors and did the billing. He also said that HEW would not necessarily know whether a doctor who billed Medicare was doing it for himself or for several doctors.
Breu said, "This is an inherently dishonest approach. In the first place HEW encourages doctors to make billings for several physicians. The clear implication of the HEW release last week was that these were individual doctors making more than $100,000. If a doctor is in fact sharing the listed income with other doctors, he shouldn't be placed in this category."
The AMA originally protested against the release of any names, contending that the practice "serves only to badger a large segment of the profession and to establish guilt by innuendo."