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Chiropractors can file complaints

By Carol Gentry and Mary Jo Melone
12/4/2009 © Health News Florida

Usually when Florida’s Attorney General seeks restitution for defrauded “consumers” in a health-care case, prosecutors are talking about patients. Not this time.

The office of Atty. Gen. Bill McCollum, which is suing Axiom Worldwide of Tampa for making “false, deceptive or misleading” claims, says the victims in this case are doctors who bought the company’s DRX 9000 back-pain device.

The doctors – most of them chiropractors – were told that the $95,000 machine was FDA approved, had been developed by NASA and would pay for itself through insurance coverage, according to the complaint. None of that turned out to be true, they say.

“I love the machines,” said Leesburg chiropractor Alan Newman. “I just don’t love the way Axiom does business.”

The attorney general's legal filing seeks an injunction barring Axiom and its executives -- President and CEO James J. Gibson Jr. and Vice President Nicholas Exarhos -- from continuing to market the machine under false pretenses. He also wants Axiom to repay almost $100 million to the doctors and the state.

That represents the money Axiom took in for the machine in 2005 and ’06, after executives had been made aware that their claims for the machine were not accurate, the complaint says. 

Gibson declined to comment on the case for a Health News Florida article about it this week.

When doctors found out insurers wouldn’t cover the treatments, they say, they had to ask patients to pay thousands of dollars. Few could.

Newman says many doctors “lost their machines, lost their practices or remortgaged their homes to try to pay off” the DRX 9000.

Some of the buyers’ problems were compounded when they used the marketing materials Axiom provided, according to the legal complaint. They ended up being fined by their state chiropractic boards for marketing violations.

A dozen chiropractors in Florida got into trouble that way, but their fines -- $2,000 to $3,000 – were less than some of their peers in other states.

Walter Barrett of Birmingham says that in addition to the cost of the machine, he initially faced a fine of $104,000 from the Alabama chiropractic board because of all the phrases in the Axiom brochures and ads that were deemed misleading. It cost him more than $30,000 in legal fees to get the fine down to $7,500, he said.

The episode used up his savings and sent him into debt, he said. So he’s gone back to school in hopes of finding a different health career. He says he was “probably naïve” to assume that all the claims Axiom made were true.

Because of the state complaint filed Nov. 19 in Hillsborough Circuit Court, doctors who bought the DRX 9000 and lived to regret it can try to get some of the money back. It depends on what the court decides, said Ryan Wiggins, deputy communications director for the attorney general’s office. 

Complaints can be filed via the Internet at www.MyFloridaLegal.com or by phone. The number from inside Florida is 800-336-2013 and is 850-414-3990 from outside the state.

Chiropractor J.C. Smith of Warner Robins, Ga., who says he was “sold the same bill of goods that others were,” filed a complaint on Thursday after reading a Health News Florida article on the case.

He advised that it’s fastest to use the Internet. On the phone, he said, there was a lot of bouncing around to find the right person.