State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

New law comes down on rare crime of posing as doctor

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | Jul 8, 2015 2:35 AM

Phony medical doctors will face stiffer penalties under a state law taking effect later this summer.

Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) proposed the change in response to the grand jury that recommended charges against Kermit Gosnell in 2010. The doctor convicted in 2013 for killing three babies in his West Philadelphia abortion clinic.

But the grand jury report singles out two of Gosnell's employees, who were passing themselves off as doctors despite not being licensed.

"The grand jury believed that increasing the penalty for doing that was an appropriate thing to do in response," said Casey Long, a policy aide to Scarnati.

A House analysis of the measure notes only eight people in the past five years have been convicted for lying about their professional license in Pennsylvania. None was pretending to be a doctor.

But Scarnati, Long said, thinks "the Gosnell case in and of itself is evidence that there is need for a deterrent."

The new law will increase the maximum sentence for impersonation to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Previously, the penalty was up to two years in prison and a fine as high as $5,000 - the same maximum sentence facing those who impersonate notaries or licensed professionals like engineers and nurses.

The Pennsylvania Medical Society described its position on the measure as "generally supportive."

"This was not something we prioritized because we don't think it does happen very often," said Scot Chadwick, the group's legislative counsel. "But even one harmed patient would be one too many."

The measure passed unanimously in both legislative chambers. It was signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf in late June.

Published in State House Sound Bites

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