VENTURA COUNTY: Supervisors Agree to Settle Fraud Case
In a decision some officials called "the path toward closure," Ventura County supervisors voted unanimously yesterday to go ahead with a $15.3 million payment to settle the Medicare fraud case brought by the U.S. Attorney's Office, the Los Angeles Times reports. About $2.5 million of that amount would go to county psychiatrist Jerome Lance, who blew the whistle on the alleged billing improprieties. According to county Chief Administrative Officer Lin Koester, most of the payments will come from the county's $25 million reserve over the next three years -- a source of concern for officials, as the reserves are an integral part of the county's credit rating for long term loans. Koester notes that "a depletion in reserves" could delay major building projects, such as a $25 million cafeteria and laboratory for the county's medical center and a $23 million phase two renovation of the its juvenile justice center. In order to reestablish the reserve funds to avoid "a slowdown in our capital," Koester notes the county may cut some mental health programs and social services, adding, "We'll be doing belt-tightening in all departments." Tuesday's settlement comes as the FBI prepares to step up its criminal investigation, and it does not conclude the pending investigation by HCFA into the mental health department's alleged violation of federal organizational rules stemming from its failed attempt to merge with the social services agency. Some officials believe that a fine from that investigation could be as low as $344,000. Koester, who is planning to retire next month, said a September meeting of the county supervisors has been planned to decide how best to cover the settlement cost (Johnson, 8/4).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.