Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley's efforts to influence federal reimbursement rates for dialysis providers and to save a kidney transplant program in her home state of Nevada have raised questions about an appearance of a conflict of interest with her husband's medical practice.
But an ethics watchdog group said Tuesday the efforts are unlikely to generate further investigation because her work helped a large swath of health providers, not just her husband.
Berkley, who is running for the Senate, was the focus of a New York Times report that examined her role in staving off the closure of the state's only kidney transplant center. Her husband, Dr. Larry Lehrner, has a nephrology practice that administers kidney care at the University Medical Center in Las Vegas.
Federal regulators had moved three years ago to shut the kidney transplant program because kidney transplants were failing at unusually high rates, but Berkley and other members of Nevada's congressional delegation intervened and succeeded in gaining a reprieve.
The department's closure would have required Nevadans to go out of state for a kidney transplant. “I think going to bat for the hospital, it's really hard for me to see that as a big conflict,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “The concept of closing the only transplant center in the entire state, that seems like a big deal, and it seems like any member of Congress would have to be involved, plus she didn't initiate it, so it just doesn't bother me very much.”
OMG, Shelley Berkley's husband is a doctor! And OMG, Shelley Berkley saved the state's only kidney transplant center! OMG, what a conflict of interest! (snark)
I know "The Grey Lady of Journalism" has been letting its journalistic standards lapse for some time (case in point, Jayson Blair and Judith Miller being allowed to make up their own "facts" as they wrote along), but this may be a new low for The New York Times. In trying to make a big story that could tip our US Senate election, The Times missed some key details of the actual story.
Reacting to the story, Berkley issued a statement accusing the Times of ignoring important contextual elements, such as the fact Nevada’s entire delegation, including then-U.S. Reps. Jon Porter and Dean Heller, both R-Nev., urged regulators to save the transplant center.
Berkley has also been a fierce advocate for funding for treatment of cancer, hepatitis and osteoporosis — a disease she suffers from.
“While The New York Times may not care about the health care needs of my fellow Nevadans, I do,” she said in a written statement. “I will never stop fighting on behalf of my constituents just because my husband is a doctor.” [...]
But political scientist Eric Herzik said Berkley is well positioned to withstand the scrutiny.
“So she happens to be married to a doctor,” he said. “She saved a transplant clinic. If I were her, I would be out there right now spinning it that way. ‘Yes, it was flawed, and I helped fix it.’ ”
I don't always agree with UNR's registered Republican political scientist, but I think both he and The Sun's editorial this morning are onto something. If this is "scandalous", then I want more "scandal", dammit! This is the only kidney transplant program in the state. And if Dean Heller and his DC Republican cohorts now want to claim we would have been better off allowing UMC to close it so Nevada patients in need would be forced to fly out of state to get the health care they need, then I can't wait to see their pretzel twists of "logic".