VENTURA COUNTY: Settles Improper Billing for $15.3M
Ventura County supervisors yesterday managed to talk the U.S. attorney's office down to a $15.3 million settlement in its Medicare overbilling case, almost $2 million less than the $17 million originally demanded, the Los Angeles Times reports. County Supervisor John Flynn said county negotiators jumped on the deal "because it brings them one step closer to ending the most ominous of three pending federal and state reviews of the county's beleaguered mental health department," which has been under scrutiny since the collapse of the "superagency" created by merging the mental health and social services agencies. Flynn said, "If it can bring closure, I will be happy," adding, "It's a lot of money, but it's manageable. We can handle it." Under the terms of the settlement, the county will pay back the money over three years. The Los Angeles Times reports that Ventura County attorneys are still negotiating with HCFA over licensing of the county's mental health and medical clinics (Saillant, 7/23).
Pointing a Finger
Earlier this week, former Ventura County Mental Health Director Randy Feltman, feeling heat for the events leading up to the settlement, passed the blame on to his supervisor. Feltman said Health Care Agency Director Pierre Durand "was the one who oversaw all the billings and correspondence with federal and state agencies from 1990 until Feltman's departure to the CalWORKS program in 1996." Supervisors John Flynn and Frank Schillo were not willing to buy Feltman's claims, and the Ventura County Star reports that "[d]ozens of memos to state and federal financial officials are signed by Feltman." Calling Ventura County's violations a "blatant disregard for the rules," Dr. Jerome Lance, who is heading an overhaul of the mental health billing system, said, "What was happening under Randy Feltman was a system of billing the government at a higher rate as if treatments were provided, planned and overseen by physicians." In fact, he said, services such as driving mental patients to the grocery store were billed as medical services ordered by physicians, and at 30% higher reimbursements than permitted for legitimate services (Koehler, 7/22).