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The Saga of Dr. Lasko

I need to complete the chronicle of Keith Alan Lasko, MD, begun last week in my Health Tip Pigs At A Trough with the story of the physician who wrote The Great Billion Dollar Medical Swindle some 35 years ago and then seemed to vanish. But completely disappear? Hardly. Based on what I’ve been reading online, it’s a safe bet the entire medical profession continues to wish he’d just go away for good.

As a quick profile on Dr. Lasko, he emerged, as I and many of my medical school colleagues did, from the middle-class, largely Jewish background of West Rogers Park. Our grandfathers had been Maxwell Street peddlers and junkmen so our fathers could be pharmacists, podiatrists, and small businessmen so that my generation (compelled by ambitious parents wanting the best for us) could be doctors, dentists, lawyers, and accountants, the four horsemen of Jewish immigrant pride. All this hard work permits the fourth generation–our own kids—to pursue a long menu of life-fulfilling occupations, free to be choreographers, writers, designers, executive chefs, and whitewater rafting guides.

I remember Lasko in both pre-med and med school as hardworking and intense, definitely very smart. Getting top marks was never an issue for Lasko, but I never saw him once we’d completed our second year. After he got his MD, he had a residency in internal medicine and then in cardiology, ending, according to my internet research, by moving to the West Coast and starting a practice in Van Nuys.

Lasko was ahead of his time
You can get some idea of what prompted him to write The Great Billion Dollar Medical Swindle by listening to one of his surviving radio interviews. He’s not only quite articulate, but because he’s decades ahead of his time he expresses pretty much the same ideas that Steven Brill would advance years later in the special issue of Time Magazine devoted to our insanely expensive health care system.

35 years ago, no one had the nerve to say such things. Brill, protected by Time and backed by an enormous amount of incriminating data available online, could easily take on the health care system. Lasko was alone. His local hospital in Van Nuys moved quickly to get him out of their lives and out of the medical profession forever.  The best way to do that? Come up with some evidence that he’s been irresponsible and negligent (you don’t need patient complaints for this) and join forces with the state medical board to yank his medical license.

Let me pause here to tell you it’s actually quite difficult for a doctor to totally and permanently lose his or her license to practice medicine. Even if a felony is committed, the license is suspended during incarceration but the physician can reapply for it on release. Actual permanent revocation is rare. Multiple malpractice suits almost never result in revocation. In fact, most doctors who lose their licenses have really hit the skids, having sunk to drug dealer status, using their offices as pill mills to dispense narcotics.

But even in the absence of such egregious behavior, if a group of doctors has an axe to grind and unites against you, it’s curtains.

So the doctors in Lasko’s local hospital, embarrassed by the author’s ubiquitous talk-show appearances blasting their sacred profession, report him “negligent” during his care of nursing home patients, ordering too many tests and unnecessary procedures. Since I’ve been a physician, I have never, ever heard of anyone losing a license for these reasons. Reprimanded, yes. Placed under supervision, yes. Banished, no.

During his defense (much of it still online), Lasko argues something like, “Am I here because of my book and my appearances on TV?” and says “I want my case reviewed by a peer–namely a board-certified internist and cardiologist.”

But when you’re doomed, you’re doomed. And not only does Lasko have his California license revoked, but the California Board notifies the other states Lasko’s licensed in and gets them to revoke his license too, so that within two years of publishing his inflammatory book, Lasko can no longer practice medicine.

Now begins the saga of Lasko’s revenge
Before I start, you need to know something about medical specialties and medical associations. There are a total of 130 medical specialties officially recognized by the American Medical Association (AMA), from Allergy and Anesthesiology down through Urology. Each has its own board exam for certification and its own professional association for members. There are also dozens and dozens of unrecognized, unofficial specialties, including Anti-Aging Medicine and Environmental Medicine, whose membership is based on common interest rather than specific credentials. The AMA really dislikes these unofficial specialties, probably because it can’t control them.

Lasko, on the other hand, feels contempt for them all, approved or unapproved. To his thinking, the whole bunch is one vast den of thieves.

Of course, anyone–even you–can start any association of any stripe. Put the right paperwork together, submit it to the right registering agencies, and you have your own association. You could even start your own medical association. Go ahead, name it anything you want, send out a mailing to lure some members, collect membership fees, and issue membership cards, certificates, and plaques. You can even award your members new initials after their names.

And this became Lasko’s revenge on the medical profession.

From what I’ve gathered, he purchased physician names and addresses from the AMA, which is happy to sell this data to anyone with a credit card. Lasko then created literally dozens of new medical associations, sending mass mailings to physicians around the country, inviting them to join such entities as the “American Surgery Association,” the “American Association of Geriatric Physicians,” and even the “American Association of Ethical Physicians.” Dozens of associations, literally dozens. To my mind, his contempt for physicians knew no bounds. If a doctor was willing to pay for a few more initials after his name to impress his patients, Lasko would supply them.

After all, he was unemployed and very angry.

Soon the conventional medical associations got wind of this and exploded, filing cease and desist lawsuits to stop him. But as I read through the lawsuits, the warnings, and the judgments, as fast as he closes one association he’s opening two more. If he was a loose cannon with The Great Billion Dollar Medical Swindle, now he’s a Howitzer. Here’s a warning from the American Board of Internal Medicine (likely he was once a member) listing a couple of his fictional associations. And one from the surgeons.

Moral outrage
Second guessing Lasko, I think he genuinely felt all professional associations were glorified trade guilds, existing primarily to keep away outsiders. There’s nothing wrong with learning to become a physician, or even establishing standards for credentialing expertise. But when professionals band together to create associations that exclude anyone who thinks outside the box, Lasko objects vociferously. This has been standard operating procedure for the medical profession over the past 100 years. The AMA spent a fortune trying to eliminate chiropractors from the healthcare landscape. It was only after a US Supreme Court order that they gave up and set their sights on midwives and acupuncturists.

And if you think things are better in the 21st century, there’s a case being heard right now, the nation’s highest legal apparatus at work deciding whether or not to prevent non-professionals (whatever that means) from engaging in teeth whitening.

The next phase of Dr. Lasko’s life somebody smarter than me can explain. Sometime in the 1990s, he adds a second title, referring to himself as “The Reverend Doctor Keith Lasko.” Links begin appearing to a church he’s founded, The Worldwide Ministries of Christ, with an online series of sermons, presented in all-capital-letters Unabomber fashion and railing against issues like abortion of babies already born (never explained).

Personally, I thought Lasko was Jewish (Pratt Avenue, West Rogers Park in the ‘60s? What else?), but Jews can become enthusiastic Christian fundamentalists just like anyone else. So where is he now? The ever-reliable internet locates him in Las Vegas, with his church in Virginia and his weekly sermons appearing online. He’s still creating and selling memberships in medical associations, closing them down as fast as he loses a court order.  Still a Howitzer. Just five months ago he filed lawsuits against the American College of Surgeons and the American College of Physicians, the two largest physician organizations after the AMA, accusing them of violating the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.

Here is where his 394-page complaint against “a slew of defendants” is dismissed.

I thought I was at a loss about all this, but maybe not. Lasko was morally outraged by what medicine had become. He wrote an angry book. Was drummed from his profession on what look like seriously trumped-up charges (I can find neither a record of a patient complaint against him nor a malpractice suit). Being closed off from his profession, he chose to move earth and its mountains against it, creating non-existent medical associations (remember, he believes the real associations basically exist to support the evils of the profession) and ultimately filing lawsuit after lawsuit hoping that somewhere the chicanery can be exposed.

One medical article after another calls him a “scam artist,” but not one refers to his book or to the brutal ending of his livelihood all those many years ago.

Ultimately, of course, any judgment is up to you. As always, your comments enrich the conversation.

Be well,
David Edelberg, MD 


Posted in Blog, Knowledge Base, L, S Tagged with: ,
15 comments on “The Saga of Dr. Lasko
  1. John says:

    I can understand Lasko’s outrage at the medical profession, and I appreciate Dr. E’s explanation of it. However, Lasko’s way of expressing his outrage is so personally punishing and ultimately so counter productive that I fear for his sanity. In some ways, he reminds me of Dr. Kavorkian. Different issues, similar strategy.

  2. Robert Radycki says:

    Dr E,
    This is the son of the previous stellar article you had previously written. This son, Dr Lasko, is the victim of a big, bloated bureaucracy which dismisses and diminishes this pioneering physician’s contributions to further the AMA’s need for greed. Ironically, I am writing this email from Canada in the province of British Columbia at the ski resort of Red Mtn where 24 of us Chicagoans in a ski club are enjoying a ski week. Before leaving Chicago I had to purchase medical insurance because Medicare does not cover us beyond the US borders. A couple of provinces east of here is Saskatchewan where in 1962 the pioneering politician Tommy Douglas culminated a grassroots movement to establish single payer in Saskatchewan and it was signed into law. Single payer quickly spread to other provinces and now it is a federal law. In 1962 the AMA crossed the border and tried to squash the single payer movement by organizing lackey physicians to oppose it. Thank God the AMA failed here. However, today the AMA is failing us as it did the pioneering Dr Lasko.
    Thank you dearly Dr E for this compelling insightful article.

  3. Nina Thomas says:

    Wow David. Interesting article!

  4. Robert Radycki says:

    Correction to my above written comment: I have no real evidence to the AMA crossing the border to do any organizing of doctors. However, my source reads “Doctors there staged a 23-day strike, supported by the U.S. based American Medical Association”.

  5. Addie says:

    I’m trying (and failing) not to laugh because Lasko sounds monomaniacally loopy. He missed a chance to bring about real change a la Ralph Nader, He messed up getting overcome by his own anger. The only reason Jews (like me) become fundamentalists is to be able to send people to Hell. I’m sorry he didn’t write more books.

  6. Gina Pera says:

    Fascinating story!

  7. Lesa says:

    I really appreciate that story and the investigation. It gives me hope to see someone so full of integrity to do the right thing. How many of us shut down to just go along. I think he’s a David to a Goliath and unfortunately for us Goliath is winning.

  8. Mery Krause says:

    I just ordered a used copy of the book, for 25 cents, thanks to you, Dr. E. Now, here’s hoping that I understand all that he has to say.

  9. Seanna says:

    My Irish/German Catholic father grew up on Bell, and my very Irish Great Grandparents lived on Oakley, both one block south of Devon in the 1950’s. I think that’s because my gpa liked to play golf at Warren Park so they left Bridgeport. I assume they were the minority in West Rogers Pk.

  10. Karen says:

    Thank you Dr. E for this informative and sensitive article. Do know that the medical profession is not the only place where intelligent and ethical practitioners are forced out of their chosen professions because those who would disagree with them instead plot maliciously to prosecute and destroy lives. Can you imagine the good Dr. Lasko could have done had he not had to contend with the total loss of his profession?

  11. Tom Resk says:

    Lasko sounds like a doc in the mold of the acerbic Saul Alinsky, whom I loved to watch in action on late night Saturday nite TV – Irv Kupcinet’s show a lifetime ago now. Where and when did he graduate from med school? I graduated from the Circle, then U of I Med in ’74. Bought his book off Amazon this morning. Enjoy your blog. Re-located to CA via N-western Path residency in ’75.

  12. Dr. E,
    long time reader, first time commenter, and big fan. Thank You Dr E for continually providing the voice of reason in a world gone mad. You are truly the canary very much in the coal mine when it comes to the megalith of the modern medico-pharmico-insurance cartel. Love this tidbit about Dr Lasko. A mad genius who fought a truly quixotic battle against what he perceived as the ultimate in sacrosanctimonious hypocrisy in medicine. Keep spreading the truth and keep the faith Dr. E. Thank You

  13. Lee Finnegan says:

    He was a superior doctor and what happened to him is a crime. He is a fearless whistleblower and there are few people who could do what he did. I wish his fate could be reversed as it makes me very sad.

  14. rita hernandez says:

    We, at least he didn’t become one of the Kosher Nostra, or did he?

  15. Carol Sellers says:

    I met Dr. Lasko in 1983 with the backlash from his book in full attack. He was a very intelligent and caring person who spoke the truth in “The Great Billion Dollar Medical Swindle.” He was an excellent doctor and one who truly cared for his patients. It is a true crime, what the local hospitals and medical association did to him. His book was on the top ten selling list and suddenly it disappeared. Their power was too big for one doctor sadly to say. His anti-trust lawsuit was justified and many people in the San Fernando Valley, lost a good doctor. Not sure I agree with his payback yet I can feel his justified anger even though it’s been many years since I’ve seen him.

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