EXCLUSIVE: Doctor accused of running a medical marijuana mill

January 10, 2010

BY KAREN VELIE

Former co-workers are accusing Dr. Atsuko Rees, a physician at HealthWorks in San Luis Obispo until July 2009, of writing medical marijuana recommendations for almost anyone who asked, while not claiming the bulk of payments for the visits as income.

The allegations come as medical officials across the country are asking if a small number of doctors are responsible for authorizing the vast majority of medical marijuana cards — possibly abusing a law meant to help patients with chronic health problems. These few doctors, many known for spending five to ten minutes with patients before diagnosing them with a chronic illness, are said to be practicing sub-standard medical care as they rake in between $150 to $250 for each diagnosis.

HealthWorks employees allege that Dr. Rees, a former co-owner of HealthWorks who now practices at Rees Family Medical on Higuera Street in San Luis Obispo, would see as many as 60 to 70 patients on so-called “Marijuana Fridays” when she practiced at HealthWorks. Both Dr. Rees and Mary Eanes, a physician’s assistant Dr. Rees continues to work with, would approve patients’ medical marijuana status. However, to comply with California law, Dr. Rees would sign off on patients as if she had seen each patient personally, former co-workers said.

Neither Dr. Rees nor Eanes returned numerous phone calls asking for comment. However, a call to their office confirmed the group is continuing to issue medical marijuana cards.

Even though Dr. Rees saw patients of all ages at HealthWorks, the bulk of her marijuana card clients fell between the ages of 15 and 25, with a large number visiting the clinic on, or within days of, their 18th birthday.

Medical marijuana patients under age 18 must have a parent present when seeing a doctor or visiting a dispensary, according to California law. Nevertheless, Dr. Rees gave a medical marijuana recommendation to a 15-year-old Nipomo boy who walked into the clinic complaining of headaches. He provided a note from his mother that said he could seek medical care without an accompanying parent.

Dr. Rees started writing cannabis recommendations in 2007 and since then has written more than 30,000 medical marijuana approvals for everything from sleeping problems to anxiety.

Cynthia Scott, a former business partner of Dr. Rees at HealthWorks, said that shortly after Dr. Rees began advertising for patients seeking medical marijuana, they began seeing scores of cannabis-seeking patients. Scott said many patients would come to the counter requesting to see the “marijuana doctor.”

Scott also said that when the partners began battling over the clinic’s growing reputation as a marijuana prescription mill, Dr. Rees told Scott not to worry because she was “keeping it all off the books.” Nevertheless, the partners’ disagreements escalated until Dr. Rees agreed to leave HealthWorks.

“She would put the money in her lab coat,” Scott said. “She would have pockets full of cash.”

While at HealthWorks, Dr. Rees also saw patients for medical problems not related to marijuana. A former employee, who was responsible for billing insurance companies, said Dr. Rees allegedly would pad the bills by reporting she had seen patients for at least 25 minutes, when in reality she had spent less than 10 minutes examining the client.

The illegal act of false billing, referred to as up-coding, can cause the insurance reimbursement for a medical visit to jump from $56 to $83.

HealthWorks’ current physician, Dr. Donella Jenkins, said that although Dr. Rees left HealthWorks some six months ago, the business continues to turn away multiple patients who are asking to see the “marijuana doctor.”

Approximately a year ago, officials at the Grizzly Academy were considering hiring Dr. Rees to help provide medical care for their students.

“I learned from nurses at HealthWorks that Dr. Rees was using the office to sell marijuana prescriptions,” said Dr. George Ward, a local physician who worked with students at the Grizzly Academy. “I said ‘she is not the doctor we want around our youth.’”


Loading...
Cindy

I do have to admit that 30,000 recommendations in 3 years sounds rather staggering. That would be 200 recommendations a week for 3 years (allowing for a 2 week vacation each year) to the tune of $4,500,000. Does HealthWorks really have 30,000 records on file for MMR’s?


Nancy

“While it is both legal and accepted medical practice to see underage patients with a note from a parent without a parent present, my policy is to require the presence of a parent or guardian.”


I suggest that Dr Rees familiarize herself with California law before she gets herself into big trouble. It is absolutely against the law to give a marijuana recommendation to a minor without consulting with the parent in person. That’s a fact, check with the AG or any knowledgeable lawmaker.


b_slo

Two points:

1. Medical marijuana in California is governed by Health and Safety Code section 11362.5. It says nothing about a requirement to meet with a parent in person. Neither does CA Family Code sections 6500-6911 that discuss who can authorize medical treatments for minors. The CA Medical Board website, http://www.medbd.ca.gov/medical_marijuana.html , says: “If a physician recommends or approves the use of medical marijuana for a minor, the parents or legal guardians must be fully informed of the risks and benefits of such use and must consent to that use. ” Again, nothing about a requirement for consulting with a parent in person. So, if you know that it is ‘absolutely against the law to give a marijuana recommendation to a minor without consulting with the parent in person’, please tell me, what law are you referring to?

2. Even if you were correct, I fail to follow your logic. Dr. Rees states that despite there being no legal requirement, her policy is to require the presence of a parent or guardian. So she is consulting with the parent in person. So how would she get herself into big trouble?


Marijuana Dispensary Slated for Nipomo « Nipomo News

[…] last week, Cal Coast News ran an article describing how one medical doctor has been accused by co-workers of writing medical marijuana […]


cheseburger

“She would put the money in her lab coat,” Scott said. “She would have pockets full of cash.” claims her co-worker, the goverment created this supply and demand enabling her to do this,

(if it really happened), and she wouldn’t be the first in this capitalistic country to capitalize on a demand created by laws or the lack of them, remember slavery was a legal highly profitable trade. My point decriminalization of this weed, is way, way over due, and this doctor has only done what this country is based on, taking money from the other guys, using a doctor’s degree as a tool to do it, all completely legal.

Now; if we were smart all this could be stopped by voting for the legalization of the drug THC.

As far as I know no one has smoked some and gone out and committed violent crimes, suicide, as they do on prescription pain killers, meth, booze, heroin, well you get the picture.

I feel this doctor has been wrongfully accused by a jealous co-worker who didn’t have,pockets full of cash, stranger things have happened.

And if you really need proof, go and see Dr. Krakovesky at the old pain center on foothill, talk about a racket, you fill out a first grade comic and they see you for five minutes, fill yours scripts for powerful pain killers and dangerous tranquilizers, but watch out, a few misguided words out of your month and this nice doctor becomes Hitler, stating ,”How about I dismiss you as a patient,” in a heavy German accent!

I went cold turkey off highly addictive medicines, causing me to never trust anyone in specialized medicine, and to put it bluntly, suffer at the hands of the Dictator at the Pain Center, Dr. Krakovesky. Don’t ever go there and if you are unfortunate enough to have too, beware they can take it all away, at least you can buy more pot, if you run out.


Use_it_or_Lose_it

We allow Tylenol _an over the counter drug_ to be made in another county, skirt the Food and Drug Administration’s inspection of the product, sicken people with contaminants [all lots of Tylenol arthritis have been recalled recently please google], and we don’t allow the use of medical marijuana.


Un believable


JordanJ

Well with all the people flocking for a marijuana recommendation, I think it’s time to just legalize it and stop all the confusion and game playing. The people want it and they have voted on it. This is no different than when there was prohibition. When the people want something they will get it by whatever means necessary, lets stop bogging down the legal system over a bunch of bogus propaganda. There is nothing wrong with marijuana. Alcohol is far more destructive and most people who use marijuana detest alcohol. “In with marijuana, out with alcohol”, say I.


standup

I will discuss this doctor’s care. I am a 47 year old male that lost my home in a fire that almost killed my wife and I. I started to have anxiety attacks to the point one sent me to the emergency room because I thought I was having a heart attack. My family doctor prescribed Xanex OVER THE PHONE without even seeing me. I just had to walk into the office and pick up the prescription. Xanex made me a zombie all day which does not fare well with the type of work that I am in. I went to see Dr. Rees, got a rec and haven’t looked back since. I medicate only in the evening before bed and no more severe attacks. Every time I have been there, the girl at the front desk has always taken my money, not the doc. Some people are such a joke. To think that regular doctor’s a some kind of GOD is completely off base. They get kickbacks from big Pharm all the time for prescribing a drug. Where do you think the free samples come from? Anywhoo, the state senate is looking at legalization as we speak.


Paso_Guy

So, you are a guy with anxiety who smokes a little dope. Why not let Jack Daniels take care of your troubles like the rest of us?


standup

They have morphine, demoral (sp?),oxycontin and a host of other pain killers. Should we just limit it to one choice? Plus, I don’t like Jack Daniels. This is America. We get to choose.


nancy33

I am a doctor and there are no “kickbacks” for giving out samples, in fact it’s extra work and done as a courtesy to the patient. The kickbacks stopped more than 8 yrs ago they are not legal anymore. The samples are “free” to the patient and extra work, logging, storage space, regulation, etc to the doctor. the doctor makes no money off this whatsoever so you have no clue what you are talking about.


standup

I stand corrected. Didn’t know they changed that 8 years ago. I might not have had a clue about the kickbacks but the rest of my post is fact Nancy33.


pyrrhonist

I agree with DeepBlueSLO that the step to take is an alert to the medical board. If the accusations are true, it should be discovered by that body and not first tried in the press.