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Why should a little fraud mess up a state contract?

Suppose you had a contract with a guy to work on your house, and you found out he was taking advantage of you.

Maybe he was overcharging, or billing for work he didn't do, or knowingly taking more money than he should.

So you confront him, and the guy says: "Hey, mistakes were made. But I've changed. Let's put it behind us.

"I'll even give you part of the money back."

I know what I'd say. You?

But forget this little example. Instead, let's say we were talking about hundreds of millions of dollars stolen from the public

Well, then! Ho-hum.

This week, we learned that Tampa-based WellCare Health Care Plans Inc. has agreed to pay $137.5 million to the feds to settle charges that it overcharged for its Medicare and Medicaid programs.

WellCare was already in trouble. Last year, the company agreed to pay $80 million to settle a charge of conspiracy to defraud Florida's Medicaid and Healthy Kids program.

Oh, and I realize this is just a parking ticket compared to the other stuff, but WellCare also used subsidiaries to give 129 potentially illegal campaign contributions to Florida politicians, and settled those accusations last year for a cheap $120,000.

(Don't confuse the WellCare case with the fraud case of Columbia/HCA, the company once headed by Rick Scott, now a Republican candidate for governor. The settlements in that case totaled $1.7 billion.)

WellCare has contracts with Florida, other states and the feds to manage Medicaid and Medicare plans. Its revenue last year was $6.9 billion.

As for our state government, the top brass that were supposed to be riding herd sometimes simply went to work for WellCare, or joined its board. How is that legal?

How is the company's contract not canceled? I asked the state Medicaid agency on Wednesday what it was doing. The reply was that the agency head has written a letter to the attorney general asking him to investigate.

According to an earlier analysis by the Associated Press, WellCare distributed up to $2.4 million in campaign contributions to Florida politicians over several years.

I looked up the current election cycle and found that WellCare is still doing it, giving money to individual candidates, to political parties, and to shadowy fundraising committees operated by individual powerful legislators.

Mike Haridopolos, incoming president of the state Senate, got $10,000 on March 1 from WellCare for one of his outfits, "The Committee for Florida's Fiscal Future."

Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, got $10,000 from WellCare on Feb. 11 for his "Innovate Florida" committee.

Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, got $5,000 on Feb. 22 for her committee "Creating Possibilities."

State Attorney General Bill McCollum got a $500 contribution for his governor's race from WellCare on Feb. 17.

The biggest recipient was the state Republican Party: $20,000 on Nov. 3, $20,000 on Dec. 2, $25,000 on Feb. 11 and $25,000 on Feb. 23.

The Florida Democratic Party got only $7,500, but maybe the company figures it already has the Democratic angle pretty well sewed up.

See, when he isn't solving oil spills or terrorism, our Democratic former governor and U.S. senator and all-around supposed white-hat, Bob Graham — he's a member of WellCare's board, too.

Why should a little fraud mess up a state contract? 06/30/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 30, 2010 7:00pm]
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