UCI Cuts 3 Fertility Doctors' Pay, Citing Budget Concerns

TIMES STAFF WRITER

UC Irvine is reducing the salaries of the three doctors accused in its egg-swapping scandal by 23%, citing budgetary concerns at the medical school, officials announced Friday.

The trio collectively have continued to draw annual salaries of more than $300,000 since they were placed on leave from the faculty in May as the scandal broke--a fact that has rankled some on the University of California's Board of Regents. The cuts are effective next month.

Though the move was not directly attributed to the turmoil, UCI officials said the doctors cannot continue to draw such high salaries when they are no longer treating patients and bringing money to the medical school.

The fertility doctors' incentive pay--based on the number of patients they draw--was slashed, so they now will receive only their base salaries. Former clinic director Ricardo H. Asch will see his pay drop from $124,500 to $95,800; Dr. Sergio C. Stone from $96,300 to $74,100; and Dr. Jose P. Balmaceda from $82,800 to $63,700.

The three physicians are accused of stealing the eggs and embryos of perhaps more than 100 patients and giving them to other women. They also are accused of financial and research misconduct and are being investigated by criminal authorities for possible mail fraud, insurance fraud and fertility drug smuggling.

The doctors, through their attorneys, have denied any deliberate wrongdoing. Both Asch and Balmaceda have left the country. Asch has been practicing in Mexico and Balmaceda in Chile. Stone still resides in Orange County.

Their attorneys could not be reached for comment on the salary reductions Friday.

The university has begun termination proceedings against all three physicians. While faculty members are on administrative leave during disciplinary proceedings, it is customary to pay their full salaries.

The policy has drawn questions from some members of the UC Board of Regents. Regent Howard H. Leach asked the UC general counsel's office in November to look into the possibility of placing the doctors' salaries in interest-bearing accounts for the future use of patients whom the doctors have allegedly victimized. A report on the feasibility of that suggestion is expected next month.

Tom Cesario, dean of the UCI College of Medicine, said the department of obstetrics and gynecology, like several others at the school, has been feeling a financial pinch as managed care has taken hold in the marketplace.

Patient revenue has declined 5% to 10% at the medical college in the past five years, falling to $40 million in 1994.

During the past year, other faculty members have received pay cuts and some employees have been laid off, Cesario said, though he did not have precise numbers. The dean knew of no other faculty members affected in this round of cuts.

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