Surgery For Profit?

Mission specialists Patrick Forrester (left) and Tim Kopra work on the flight deck of space shuttle Discovery.
Mission specialists Patrick Forrester (left) and Tim Kopra work on the flight deck of space shuttle Discovery. Credit: NASA

Father John Corapi thought his running days were over when a heart doctor gave him bad news.

"Dr. Moon announced to me so solemnly, 'You need an immediate triple bypass.' That was a shock to me," says Corapi.

The same doctor, reports CBS News Correspondent John Blackstone, Chae Moon, director of Cardiology at the Redding Medical Center in northern California, also gave Alan Barber an equally dire diagnosis.

Barber says Moon told him, "'You're having a heart attack now as we speak. You're having a heart attack. You're gonna die.'"

Barber and Corapi both refused the surgery Dr. Moon said they needed and got a second opinion instead. Both were then told their hearts were fine.

According to Corapi, the situation needs only, "Two words: medical fraud."

Moon is now under investigation suspected of performing unnecessary heart operations.

Last month, 40 FBI agents carted away Dr. Moon's records along with those of the hospital's chief heart surgeon, Dr. Fidel Realyvasquez.

The FBI search warrant suggests half the heart operations done at the Redding Medical Center were not necessary.

Redding Medical Center is run by Tenet Healthcare, the nation's second largest for-profit hospital chain. It is also a company facing other problems right now, including a nationwide inquiry into the possible over billing of Medicare.

Tenet admits to aggressive pricing but denies knowledge of over billing.

But Dugan Barr, Father Corapi's attorney tells Blackstone, "B.S., they knew." And there were definitely profits being made, "You ought to see what they charge," says Barr.

Here's what they do charge: In California, a major heart operation at a Tenet hospital costs $229,962, which is more than twice what other hospitals charge: $113,671.

Tenet collects three times the national average in extra Medicare payments for high cost care. Extra Medicare Payments to Tenet in 2000 was $158 million. In just two years those payments have risen dramatically to $765 million this year.

In total, Tenet's 113 hospitals in 16 states collected $4.4 billion in taxpayer money from Medicare this year.

Records show Dr. Moon alone billed Medicare $3,964,744.31.

"My living patients will be my witness. Thank you," says Dr. Moon in his own defense.

And many of Moon's patients have rallied to his defense.

"He works seven days a week. He doesn't take vacations. For Dr. Moon there's only one bottom line and that's saving patients lives," says William Warne, Moon's attorney.

But at the heart of the matter are worries that good medicine may sometimes fall victim to the pursuit of profit.