Good choice, bad choice? Community role model triggers debate over ethics of insurance fraud
An educator thought she did an act of kindness for a sick student by scamming a health policy out of $233 to get the kid urgently needed antibiotics.
Casey Smitherman’s choice ignited vigorous debate in her community, school system and prosecutor’s office — making national headlines. She was a public figure and role model who openly admitted she committed insurance fraud — a felony. Yet she had seemingly good intentions, and made no personal profit.
So what to do? What would you do?
Drove student to clinic
Smitherman was the superintendent of Elmwood school district, about 30 miles northeast of downtown Indianapolis.
A student didn’t show up for class. Concerned, Smitherman went to the 15-year-old’s home to check up. He seemed to have strep throat. The teen lives with an elderly relative who doesn’t drive. So Smitherman drove him to an emergency clinic for antibiotics.
The pharmacy refused to provide her the meds; the student was a minor, and Smitherman wasn’t his legal guardian. So she drove to another clinic. She lied the youth was her son, obtaining the antibiotics under her own son’s health policy.
The student’s guardian went to the police. Smitherman quickly admitted all and cooperated. She was charged with insurance fraud and two other felonies.
“I wanted to do all I could to help him get well,” Smitherman said. “I know this action was wrong. In the moment, my only concern was for this child’s health.”
Avoided jail term
The county prosecutor was empathetic, and cut Smitherman a break. The charges will be dropped if she stays out of legal trouble for a year.
“I think there have to be some consequences, but they shouldn’t be career jeopardizing. I think there’s a way to take care of that without destroying her career, because her motives were good,” prosecutor Rodney Cummings told CBS News.
Many people supported Smitherman on social media. Yet many local residents called for Smitherman’s job.
“What are you teaching our children in this school system? Are you teaching them it’s OK to lie and commit fraud because you felt in your heart it was the right thing to do?” school parent Shay N. Haley told the Herald (Anderson) Bulletin.
Smitherman endangered the student. He could’ve had life-threatening allergies to the antibiotics. The school district might’ve faced serious liability problems, the school nurse Stacey Buck said.
The school district’s state-of-the-art telemedicine system also could’ve handled the youth’s illness on the spot, Buck added.
Prosecutors spared Smitherman jail. In the end, the community and school board wouldn’t spare her job. Committing insurance fraud and using generally bad judgement was too much. Smitherman resigned.
“l am very embarrassed for that, and I apologize to the board, the community and the teachers and students of Elwood Community Schools,” Smitherman said. “I sincerely hope this single lapse in judgment does not tarnish all of the good work I’ve done for students over the span of my career.”