It was a 95-degree day in July 2015, and emergency physician Martin Maag, MD, was driving down Bee Ridge Road, a busy 7-lane thoroughfare in Sarasota, Florida, on his way home from a family dinner. To distance himself from a truck blowing black smoke, Maag says he had just passed some vehicles, when a motorcycle flew past him in the turning lane and the passenger flipped him off.
"I started laughing because I knew we were coming up to a red light," said Maag. "When we pulled up to the light, I put my window down and said, 'Hey, you ought to be a little more careful about who you're flipping off! You never know who it might be and what they might do.' "
The female passenger cursed at Maag, and the two traded
profanities. The male driver then told Maag, "Get out of the car, old
man," according to Maag. Fuming, Maag got out of his black Tesla, and the
two men met in the middle of the street.
"As soon as I got close enough to see him, I could tell he really looked young," Maag recalls. "I said, 'You're like 12 years old. I'm going to end up beating your ass and then I'm going to go to jail. Go get on your bike, and ride home to your mom.' I don't remember what he said to me, but I spun around and said, 'If you want to act like a man, meet me up the street in a parking lot and let's have at it like men.' "
The motorcyclist got back on his white Suzuki and sped off, and Maag followed. Both vehicles went racing down the road, swerving between cars, and reaching speeds of 100 miles per hour, Maag says. At one point, Maag says he drove in front of the motorcyclist to slow him down, and the motorcycle clipped the back of his car. No one was seriously hurt, but soon Maag was in the back of a police cruiser headed to jail.
Maag wishes he could take back his actions that summer day 6 years ago. Those few minutes of fury have had lasting effects on the doctor's life. The incident resulted in criminal charges, a jail sentence, thousands of dollars in legal fees, and a 3-year departure from emergency medicine. Although Maag did not lose his medical license as a result of the incident, the physician's Medicare billing privileges were suspended because of a federal provision that ties some felonies to enrollment revocations.
Maag, 61, shared his story with Medscape to warn other physicians about the wide-ranging career ramifications that can happen as a result of offenses unrelated to medicine…
Maag ultimately accepted a plea deal from the prosecutor's office and pled no contest to one count of felony criminal mischief and one count of misdemeanor reckless driving. In return, the state dropped the two more serious felonies. A no contest plea is not considered an admission of guilt...
The plea deal was a favorable result for Maag considering his original charges, Fayard said. He added that the criminal case could have ended much differently...
"It took them three years to find me and tell me, even
though I never moved," he said. "Medicare said because I never
reported this, they were hitting me up with falsification of documentation
because I had signed other Medicare paperwork saying I had never been barred
from Medicare, because I didn't know that I was."
Maag went through several phases of fighting the revocation,
including an appeal to the US Department of Health and Human Services
Departmental Appeals Board. He argued that his plea was a no-contest plea,
which is not considered an admission of guilt. Maag and his attorney provided
CMS a 15-page paper about his background, education, career accomplishments,
and patient care history. They emphasized that Maag had never harmed or
threatened a patient, and that his offense had nothing to do with his practice…
Unable to practice emergency medicine and beset with debt, Maag spiraled into a dark depression. His family had to start using retirement money that he was saving for the future care of his son, who has autism.
Slowly, Maag climbed out of the despondency and began considering new career options. After working and training briefly in hair restoration, Maag became a hair transplant specialist and opened his own hair restoration practice. It was a way to practice and help patients without having to accept Medicare. Today, he is the founder of Honest Hair Restoration in Bradenton. Hair restoration is not the type of medicine that he "was designed to do," Maag said, but he has embraced its advantages, such as learning about the business aspects of medicine and having a slower-paced work life. The business, which opened in 2019, is doing well and growing steadily.
"If I could go back to that very moment, I would've just
kept my window up and I wouldn't have said anything," Maag said. "I
would've kept my mouth shut and gone on about my day. Would I have loved it to
have never happened? Yeah, and I'd probably be starting my retirement now. Am I
stronger now? Well, I'm probably a hell of a lot wiser. But when all is said
and done, I don't want anybody feeling sorry for me. It was all my doing and I
have to live with the consequences."