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Hank Walther was a federal prosecutor at the time, soon to lead the feds' Medicare Fraud Task Force. He felt they were overmatched by a more cunning adversary.

"My four-year-old kid could prosecute these cases," he says of the equipment rackets. "They're really easy, and there are plenty of them. A lot of this other stuff — home health, the ambulatory cases, even the mental-health cases — each time we got into those new areas, there was a constant refrain from law enforcement and the U.S. Attorney's Office saying, 'This is too complicated.'"

So the feds started teaming prosecutors with detectives in the same approach used to break down organized crime. They began to hunt providers, whose fraud ran to the tens of millions compared with the $1 million to $2 million paydays from equipment scams. Their discovery: Miami was the MIT of health-care schemes, the nation's unofficial laboratory for ripping off the government.

David Feinwachs found that HMOs in Minnesota had turned Medicaid into a cash cow, making it several times more profitable than their private insurance.
Courtesy David Feinwachs
David Feinwachs found that HMOs in Minnesota had turned Medicaid into a cash cow, making it several times more profitable than their private insurance.
Texas U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee carried water for Medicare swindler Riverside General Hospital.
David Ortez
Texas U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee carried water for Medicare swindler Riverside General Hospital.

"When you look per capita, Miami has more people in community mental-health centers than New York and Los Angeles combined," says Walther. "Then you look at the profile of people going in there, and they don't really fit people that need these services."

In 2010, Walther helped take down American Therapeutic, the highest-billing mental-health center in the country. The company was cycling addicts, alcoholics and Alzheimer patients through its six clinics. Patients' diagnoses were changed so that they would qualify for expensive group therapy. In the end, owner Laurence Dunn received an unheard-of fifty years, a sign that judges were finally acknowledging the magnitude of these swindles.

"It's like Whac-A-Mole, says Walther. "You knock one down, but now there's a bigger one somewhere else, and it's different. But once you figure it out, it rains on the back end with bad guys and money."

When the Check Arrives, Minnesota Gets Alligator Arms

For 29 years, David Feinwachs was general counsel to the Minnesota Health Association, a trade group for the state's hospitals.

Like many states, Minnesota pays HMOs to administer its Medicaid programs. But Feinwachs noticed something odd. While actual providers had seen their reimbursement rates frozen for more than a decade, the HMOs were hiking their management fees 10 percent a year just for playing middleman.

So Feinwachs started examining the HMOs' finances. "Because they're nonprofits, nobody ever looks at them," he says. "It's the perfect cover, because everybody goes, 'They're nonprofits. What's the problem?'"

He soon found that they'd turned Medicaid into a cash cow, making it far more profitable than their private insurance.

But when Feinwachs asked for more data on their costs, the state blocked him, claiming it was proprietary information.

He was outraged. "You can't take tax-funded programs, turn them over to vendors and claim that what happened to the money is a trade secret."

Still, the HMOs were rattled. Their trade organization reached out to Feinwachs's boss in an attempt to silence him. So did the state.

To soothe his concerns, Feinwachs was invited to sit in on a conference call in 2010 between the hospital association and Karen Peed, who oversaw the state's Medicaid contracts. "If you can't keep a secret, you have to leave the room," Peed announced during the call. Then she proceeded to explain the way Minnesota was rigging Medicaid reimbursement rates.

Think of Medicaid as a restaurant bill, where the states split the tab with the federal government. Minnesota had figured out a way to only pay for its Coke and the garlic bread, sticking the feds with the rest. The state had short-armed its own funding while jacking up the feds' obligations, hiding the scheme in an averaged rate. (Peed's boss, Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson, declined our interview request.)

While it may be unseemly for one agency to fleece another, it's not illegal. But when the state outsources its deceit to private insurers, it quickly changes from bureaucracy to fraud.

Feinwachs warned his boss, who confronted Peed. She reportedly claimed it was no different than the cost-shifting used by hospitals, where people with insurance are charged more to compensate for patients on public assistance. The big difference, of course, is that you only pay hospitals when you use them. Every taxpayer in America was getting snipped by Minnesota's duplicity.

"It's like comparing panhandling to bank robbery — one's annoying, the other's a crime," Feinwachs says he told his boss. "After that, things got increasingly tense."

Feinwachs refused to back down. "My dad was in a place called Auschwitz," he says. "He used to always tell me, 'If you see something is wrong and you don't speak against it because you're worried you're going to lose something, eventually you're going to lose everything anyway. So you might as well fight.'"

Two months later, Feinwachs was fired for insubordination.

But he'd already raised too much hell for the HMOs to feel safe. In 2011, UCare, one of the HMOs, chose to make amends. It dropped $30 million on the state's doorstep like an orphaned baby — with little explanation.

Minnesota claimed it was a donation. But the feds smelled a rat, believing it to be from Medicaid overpayments.

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2 comments
Juan_Leg
Juan_Leg

It's nearly destroyed 'Pain Management' in Colorado . The absolute WORST culprit in this entire health care melt down was of course Dr. Clemmons, and the damage he has done is NEARLY irreversible !

I'm an amputee who has survived being run over by a train as well as hit by a car twice . I keep ALL my records/tests up to date, but CAN'T find a Doc who specializes in pain, & trusts ANYONE ! I was NEVER one of Clemmons' patients & did NOT play games w/ my pills EVER ! Nor was I EVER accused or investigated !

I'm SO close to quitting what little I do get now & returning to on going binge drinking . This coming after quitting drinking YEARS ago ! 

I AM BEING FORCED TO SELF MEDICATE W/ ALCOHOL !!!

 
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