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Washington-The House Energy and Commerce Committee recently sent letters to 13 law firms seeking extensive details about their financial arrangements with doctors and medical-screening companies supporting their silicosis litigation. The firms have been directed to respond by March 3 to committee Chairman Joe Barton, R-Texas, and Representative Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. The 13 letters were sent to Campbell Cherry Harrison Davis Dove of Waco, Texas; O’Quinn, Laminack & Pirtle of Houston; Barton & Williams of Ocean Springs, Miss.; Law Offices of Alwyn H. Luckey of Ocean Springs; Law Office of Jim Zedah of Fort Worth, Texas; Snapka & Turman of Corpus Christi, Texas; Scott Hooper & Associates of Houston; Watts Law Firm of Corpus Christi; Williams Bailey Law Firm of Houston; McMurtray & Armistad of Jackson, Miss.; Pritchard Law Firm of Ocean Springs; Foxworth and Casano of Gulfport, Miss.; and Swartzfager Law Firm of Laurel, Miss. In the letters, Barton and Whitfield write, “We are concerned that there appears to be no meaningful doctor-patient relationship established by the screening process. This raises a troubling health issue when the screening process identifies serious medical conditions but the medical professionals involved disavow responsibility for informing the patient of the finding, explaining its significance, and discussing follow-up and treatment options. “It is hard to imagine circumstances where leaving such tasks to lawyers could be considered acceptable medical practice or serving the interests of public health,” they said. “The health benefit of even a competent screening may well be negated by the lack of medical follow-up.” Purpose is ‘lost’ The two lawmakers noted that facts included in U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack’s June 30, 2005, opinion, In re Silica Products Liability Litigation, MDL No. 1553 (S.D. Texas), “raise concerns that the public health purposes of these screenings are lost in a push only to identify prospective plaintiffs for a law firm.” They voiced particular concern with mobile screenings and “the apparent lack of medical supervision and follow-through.” Letters also went out to state health officers in six litigation “hot spots.” Those states are Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. Health officials are being asked for information about state regulations-sometimes known as “healing arts screening” rules-that govern large-scale diagnostic testing done without prior authorization of a licensed physician and conducted sometimes in the back of a truck that travels a state or region. One mobile screening company took X-rays in Alabama, Mississippi, Indiana, Florida, Louisiana, Georgia, Texas, West Virginia, Illinois, Ohio and Kansas between 2000 and 2004, according to the lawmakers. The letters to the firms seek information such as whether the firms have held “any ownership interest in any screening company which engaged in silicosis-related business. If so, please produce all records related to such an ownership.” In their letters, the two congressmen said that they have sent 16 letters since last August to physicians and medical-screening companies identified by Jack’s 2005 opinion to gather records about their roles in diagnosing thousands of patients with silicosis in support of personal injury lawsuits.

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