Legislators mull tougher penalties for fake doctors

WELLSBORO – The state House of Representatives approved legislation authored by Rep. Matt Baker, R-Wellsboro, chairman of the House Health Committee, which increases the penalty for those who commit the crime of impersonating a doctor.

“Those in the medical profession are generally highly respected and trusted individuals whom people seek out when they are sick, vulnerable and looking for help. It is unconscionable that a person, for whatever reason, would pretend to be a doctor,” Baker said.

Specifically, House Bill 587 would increase the grading for a person who impersonates a doctor and provides medical treatment from a second-degree misdemeanor to a first-degree misdemeanor, even if no actual harm to the patient results.

The penalty for the individual would increase from up to a $5,000 fine and one to two years of imprisonment for a second-degree misdemeanor to a maximum $10,000 fine and two and a half to five years of imprisonment for a first-degree misdemeanor.

According to Baker, the creation of the bill was spurred by the discovery of the abortion facility in Philadelphia dubbed a “house of horrors” in 2010, its subsequent closure and arrest of its operator, Dr. Kermit Gosnell on murder charges.

“There’s definitely more that precipitated my introducing it. It is one of the grand jury recommendations that investigated Gosnell and his abortion facility,” Baker said.

In that facility, “fake doctors were administering dangerous drugs to unsuspecting patients,” Baker said.

Currently, impersonation of any professional licensee, whether a notary public, cosmetologist or doctor, is graded as a second-degree misdemeanor.

Only if the person’s intent is to harm or defraud another is the offense increased to a first-degree misdemeanor.

“I increased the grading of the crime from misdemeanor two to a misdemeanor one for someone who impersonates a doctor of medicine, even if no actual harm to the patient results,” Baker said. All of the professional licensing statutes provide criminal penalties. Baker said, “however licensing boards provide only civil penalties.”

“Since Gosnell’s facility there have been five abortion clinics shut down throughout the state,” Baker added.

Baker noted that though Gosnell himself was a doctor, when he wasn’t there, which was often, he “had people administering anesthesia and doing all kinds of things under the pretext of being a doctor. In his absence there were even teenagers that were doing things they had no business doing without being trained to do so.”

“I authored this legislation as part of our efforts at the state level to address some of the systemic flaws that were uncovered by the Philadelphia grand jury during the investigation of Gosnell,” Baker said.

House Bill 587 is supported by the Pennsylvania State Police, Pennsylvania Medical Society, Fraternal Order of Police, HAP, Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation, and the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association.

The bill now heads to the state Senate for consideration.