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Doctor Prevails in Firing Dispute

TIMES HEALTH WRITER

A San Bernardino jury awarded a psychiatrist $1.56 million after agreeing that he was fired by one of the state’s leading medical groups in retaliation for refusing to switch his patients to less expensive prescription medications.

But before Dr. John Kohut’s case against Beaver Medical Group in Redlands could reach a jury for punitive damages, as expected Thursday, it was settled.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Jun. 17, 2001 FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Sunday June 17, 2001 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 2 Metro Desk 3 inches; 81 words Type of Material: Correction
Doctor’s firing--A story Saturday misstated the basis on which a psychiatrist prescribed certain drugs. A San Bernardino jury awarded Dr. John Kohut $1.56 million after agreeing that he was fired by one of the state’s leading medical groups in retaliation for refusing to switch his patients to less expensive prescription medications. The story should have said that he would not follow the group’s guidelines that required him to prescribe older, less expensive tricyclic antidepressants with more side effects before prescribing newer, more expensive medications.

Neither Kohut’s attorney, Theresa Barta of Newport Beach, nor Dr. Dennis Patrick Flynn, vice president of medical affairs at Epic Management, which manages Beaver, would disclose the settlement amount.

The case was brought under a California business practices statute that prohibits retaliation for financial reasons against doctors who exercise independent medical judgment for their patients.

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During the three-week trial, Barta argued that Kohut lost his job because he repeatedly declined to adhere to Beaver Medical Group’s prescription guidelines, which were designed to save money for the HMOs that its patients belonged to. Kohut would not put his Prozac patients on Paxil, a somewhat cheaper member of the class of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Nor would he treat depression with the older tricyclic antidepressants, which cost just pennies a pill but have more side effects.

Jurors also found that after firing Kohut, Beaver defamed him by telling his patients he would not continue seeing them, and interfered with his ability to practice by shredding authorizations for patients to see him.

“This jury vindicated that right of the doctors to stand up and fight for their right to practice medicine unhindered by financial concerns,” Barta said after signing the settlement late Wednesday.

Flynn, who described Beaver as “very disappointed” in the verdict, said the group, which consists of 130 doctors, settled the punitive part of the case because “the clinic leadership pretty much felt we needed to get this behind us and stop being litigants.”

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However, he maintained that there was never any retaliation against Kohut--or any other Beaver doctor--for drug-prescribing actions.


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