Dr. Kulwant Bhangoo
BUFFALO, NY - Since our story on Wednesday about a multi-million dollar spike in the cost associated with cosmetic surgery for employees of the Buffalo Public Schools, many viewers have contacted us wanting to know more about the doctor who performed the lion's share of those procedures
Clinics operated by Dr. Kulwant Bhangoo performed $4.3 million dollars worth of procedures last year, on patients either employed by city schools, members of their families, or retirees who are eligible for coverage for cosmetic surgery under a rider included as part of their current health coverage.
The Buffalo Teachers Federation, the union representing teachers in New York's second largest city, has previously stated that this is a benefit it would be willing to give up in its next contract.
Dr. Bhangoo accounted for almost half of the nearly $9 million billed for cosmetic surgery for school employees in 2009, a tab which totaled less than $1 million in 2004.
When WGRZ first reported about the run up in costs on Wednesday, Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore told us "If there is an increase, it's probably because the teachers know that it (the rider covering cosmetic surgery) is not going to be there in the next contract."
Reached by phone at a medical conference in India, Dr. Bhangoo confirmed that there has been a run on his offices for services, particularly in the last year, by teachers and other school employees.
"There has been a tremendous increase in volume of patients that I treat ..many of them wanted to come and get the treatments before it (coverage) was taken away," Dr. Bhangoo told WGRZ-TV..
Dr. Bhangoo couldn't say exactly how many of his patients are covered by insurance through the Buffalo Public Schools but offered that, "the volume became so much that it became necessary for me to open other locations to service all these people."
He also noted the variety of services patients can receive from plastic surgeons like himself has exploded in recent years, which may also account for the increasing number of people seeking treatment.
Dr. Bhangoo confirmed the vast majority of the procedures he's done for Buffalo Public School employees were for "appearance enhancements"-- everything from botox, to the treatment of spider veins, cellulite, hair removal, and improvements to skin due to sun damage.
He'd also like to think that much of his increased business has to do with his performance as a doctor.
"Many of my patients have been referred to me by other patients who are happy and satisfied with my treatment," he said.
Asked whether he could actually go out of business should the cosmetic surgery rider disappear from the coverage plans of school workers, Dr. Bhangoo replied, "I think so...it's quite possible. All these facilities that I had to open because of the increasing demand and the larger volume of patients have been a very huge expense to me."
"Maybe I'm wrong and maybe it's fine, but it doesn't seem fine to me and I think it's incumbent on us as board members to look into it," said Buffalo School Board member Christopher Jacobs, who has called for an investigation into the amount spending on cosmetic surgery, by what he says were less than 2 percent of the total number of workers covered by health insurance through the school district.
But Rumore insists that if school board members are all that concerned, then what should really be incumbent on them would be to get serious about negotiating a new teachers contract to replace the current one which expired 7 years ago, and which included the cosmetic surgery rider.
"It will be gone in the next contract... we've said that from the beginning. If it's still there, then blame (the Board of Education) because they haven't come to a closure of a contract with us," Rumore said.