FERRIER FILES: Rural TN doctor fights Medicare, Medicaid to treat patients
MCKENZIE, Tenn. —
A small-town Tennessee doctor fought big government to treat his Medicare/Medicaid patients after clerical errors stopped him from treating elderly patients.
Dr. Bryan Merrick is an old-fashioned doctor in every aspect of his practice right down to bedside manner.
Long after his boys played football, Dr. Merrick has continued as the volunteer team doctor at home games. He's also treated patients in their house and his own house.
He gives out his cellphone number to his patients, and he answers the phone even during Sunday church service.
“It's commonplace for him to look at his cellphone and then leave sometimes he comes back, sometimes he doesn't,” McKenzie Mayor Jill Holland said.
This small-town doctor from a different era has been infected by a modern problem. In April, he got a letter from Medicaid/Medicare that he would no longer be able to treat any Medicare patients because of billing fraud.
“Never had an issue with anybody," Merrick's Lawyer Roy Herron said. "Never had a complaint against him. Never had a malpractice. He served for 31 years serving the way we all ought to live; serving other people."
Dr. Merrick's billing clerk made a few mistakes over the past 20 months, adding up to $600 or so. The mistakes were all clerical.
The wrong Delores Doe was billed, same name different Delores Doe, and one mistake was $6.
Half the mistakes have to do with Dr. Merrick reading charts for patients. Medicaid asked him to read the charts instead of seeing the patients, but he didn't even know any of them. He read their charts not knowing that they had died.
Medicaid calls that billing for dead people, but the government didn't even know they were dead at the time either.
“When you are doing the chart review and when the patient dies in Nashville...just because the patient died doesn't mean the chart dies," Roy Herron said. "Until the federal government tells him the patient is dead, he would be neglecting his responsibility not review the chart."
Dr. Merrick has been seeing his elderly patients for the past seven months for free. He said he just can't turn them away even as he approaches ruin.
“I started thinking about being a doctor when I was in the 8th grade this has been a dream come true, and I’m not just ready to see that dream end now,” Merrick said.
The McKenzie Mayor said the federal government lacks small town common sense.
“It's devastating, and it shows the absurdity of big government skewed in their intentions and priorities," Jill Holland said. "We are talking about clerical errors less than a thousand dollars."
Holland said something needs to change.
"I think there needs to be some common sense, and that's what big government is lacking," Holland said."They need to think with their mind and their heart."
"I’ve really turned it over to the Lord on this because it’s all been out of my hands," Merrick said. "The mistakes have been out of my hands and how this will be resolved is out of my hands."
On Tuesday, Merrick was reinstated with full Medicare/Medicaid privileges. Congressman David Kustoff and four mayors in northwest Tennessee wrote letters to the government. Nevertheless a happy ending for Dr. Merrick and his dozens of elderly patients.