The Center for Grassroots Oversight

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March 28, 2002-November 2002: Medicare Administrator Allegedly Negotiates Settlement with HCA Behind Justice Department’s Back that Is ‘Too Lenient.’

HCA, the country’s largest for-profit hospital chain, announces that it has struck a deal with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) over unaudited Medicare and Medicaid billings. The company—which paid more than $840 million in criminal fines, civil penalties, and damages in 2000 for fraudulent reportings to Medicare (see December 14, 2000), and which is still being investigated—will pay CMS $250 million to zero out its account with the agency. (Gerome 3/28/2002) But according to numerous government whistle-blowers, the amount is far too low. In a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services, Senator Charles E. Grassley (R-IA) will later accuse Medicare officials of “seeking to allow HCA to resolve more than $1 billion of liability to the Medicare program for only $250 million, based on little to no evidence supporting this low figure.” Even more troubling, notes the Senator, Medicare has agreed not to audit the company’s cost reports that have been piling up since 1997 when the agency stopped processing HCA bills because of the lawsuit. “One would expect a company with such a track record to be subjected to heightened scrutiny.… [Instead,] the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is proposing to excuse HCA from an even routine review of thousands of Medicare cost reports,” Grassley writes. He says the deal is “too lenient.” John R. Phillips, one of the attorneys involved in the lawsuit against HCA, later says the deal was quietly arranged between HCA and CMS head Thomas A. Scully. “The $250 million was a total sellout by Scully, who totally negotiated it behind Justice’s back,” he says. (Pear 11/19/2002) Similarly, Grassley, in a June 25 letter to a Justice Department lawyer, says comments by Scully “have given me great concern that there is an active, ongoing effort underway to change or modify enforcement [on Medicare fraud] policy that in my view could significantly undermine the [law].” (Office of Senator Charles Grassley 7/25/2002) Scully, during his confirmation hearings, had pledged he would “aggressively enforc[e] the fraud statutes” (see May 29, 2001).


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