By Lamar White
On at least 21 different occasions during the last two and a half years, Rep. Bill Cassidy billed Louisiana State University Health Science Center for work allegedly performed on the same days as Congress voted on major legislation and held important committee hearings on energy and the Affordable Care Act, according to records first posted by Jason Berry of The American Zombie. Cassidy, a medical doctor, remained on LSU’s payroll after he was first elected, despite concerns by his associates about the nature of work that Cassidy, as a member of Congress, could legitimately conduct in his capacity as an employee of LSU.
In May of 2010, Cassidy received an extensive opinion from the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, advising, among other things, that he could be compensated as a “teaching physician” who teaches “a regular course of instruction.” The House Committee also advised Cassidy that, although he is prohibited from practicing medicine for compensation, he could still accept “payments for professional medical services in an amount that does not exceed the actual and necessary expenses associated with the medical services provided.” Payments for actual and necessary expenses associated with medical services, it is worth noting, are considered on a case-by-case basis; physician members of Congress are not allowed to earn a salary for the practice of medicine.
Although the records released are incomplete, they raise serious legal and ethical questions about Cassidy’s role at LSU and seem to suggest that Cassidy may have been in open violation of the House Committee’s clear guidelines and may have been grossly overcompensated for his work.
Instead of taking a leave of absence from LSU after he was elected in November of 2008, Cassidy agreed to an 80 percent reduction in his salary, or approximately $20,000 a year, slightly less than the $26,550 annual limitation on outside wages earned by members of Congress. There were practical reasons a physician who had been newly and narrowly elected to a Congressional seat that had already changed hands twice in the last two years would want to remain on LSU’s payroll: In addition to his salary, LSU also paid for Cassidy’s medical malpractice insurance, continuing education, and licensing fees, expenses that can easily total in the thousands. In the event that he lost re-election, he would be able to immediately return to his medical practice, without even skipping a beat.
According to correspondence between Cassidy and his colleagues, his new role at LSU-HSC would still require a commitment of approximately 30 hours a month in order to ensure that his compensation was proportionate to the reduction of his base salary. In an e-mail dated January 30, 2009, Ronnie Smith, LSU-HSC’s Vice Chancellor, writes, “(Cassidy’s) effort should be documented and monitored and appropriate adjustments to percent of effort made, if needed, in a timely manner.” Smith was not the only person who realized, early on, that the unusual arrangement with a sitting United States Congressman could be problematic.
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