Friday, January 19, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Public should see details of All Children's settlement

The public has a right to know the details of a $7 million settlement between All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg and the state and federal government. The agreement is the conclusion of a 2011 lawsuit brought by a whistle-blower who claimed the hospital was paying doctors outrageous salaries and bonuses to bring in more patients and Medicaid money. That practice would flout a federal law designed to keep doctors from benefiting financially from Medicaid referrals. There is no legal reason details of the All Children's settlement cannot be disclosed. The hospital and the government agreed to keep secret exactly what happened with taxpayer money at a beloved regional institution. The public has a vested interest and deserves to see everything.

Founded in 1926, All Children's has grown from a facility designed to treat children with polio and other crippling disorders to a $400 million, 259-bed pediatric hospital built in 2010. The latest construction project is, in part, why Barbara Schubert said she came forward with allegations of wrongdoing. Forced to find new ways to compete with other medical centers and to pay for the new building, All Children's went on a hiring spree and vastly overpaid doctors to come on board, alleged Schubert, who was director of operations for the doctors' practice at the hospital for more than 10 years. In a 2011 lawsuit, Schubert claimed the hospital hired 80 doctors in 10 specialities at inflated salaries. In 2010 alone, she said, the hospital overpaid doctors by $5 million. The newly hired doctors brought with them millions of dollars in Medicaid money under exclusive contracts to refer patients to All Children's, Schubert alleged. According to an annual report cited in the lawsuit, 70 percent or about $370 million of the hospital's patient care revenues in 2010 came from Medicaid.

All Children's denies any wrongdoing. In a statement to the Tampa Bay Times earlier this week, the hospital said it could not comment on the case or the settlement. But its $7 million payout speaks volumes. Under the terms of the deal, the hospital will pay the federal government $4 million. The state of Florida will receive $3 million. For her role as a whistle-blower, Schubert will get $1.9 million from the state and federal government. That kind of money is not routinely paid when all hands are clean, and this was hardly a nuisance lawsuit to be paid as the cost of doing business.

It comes as no surprise that All Children's wants to keep quiet whatever happened with hiring practices, high salaries and any improper recruiting techniques used to secure more Medicaid dollars. But there is no excuse for the state and federal government to withhold information from taxpayers. By sharing what it learned, the government would fulfill its responsibility to taxpayers and put hospitals on notice that they cannot pay their way out of full disclosure.

There already is enough public suspicion about the high cost of medical care, overutilization of hospital services and fraud in the Medicaid program. All Children's and the government should drop the confidentiality agreement and let taxpayers see how their money was spent. The whistle-blower performed a public service, and the public should see the full results of her courageous effort to expose the truth.

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Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

The Florida Legislature’s abrupt move to strip the University of South Florida St. Petersburg of its hard-earned separate accreditation and transform it back into a satellite of the major research university lacks detail and an appreciation for histo...
Published: 01/18/18

Another voice: Self-dealing by nursing home owners threatens patient care

The outsourcing of logistical support services, which became commonplace in the U.S. military in the 1990s and later was adopted by state prison systems, has now come to dominate the nursing home industry. And while nursing homes, unlike the military...
Published: 01/17/18
Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Three years into a crisis with its sewer system, St. Petersburg has a dandy new idea for dealing with the environmental fallout of dumping dirty water into the aquifer. Instead of committing to banning the outlawed practice, a consultant suggested th...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

A substitute teacher at a Plant City elementary school berated a class of fourth graders — and then the school principal. Another compared a student to a stripper. Others were caught napping, hitting children, making sexual remarks, giving students b...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

For the longest time, injured workers in Florida were basically at the mercy of the whims of employers to treat them fairly. A 2003 law aimed at reducing the cost of workers’ compensation coverage for businesses had the desired impact, but it also di...
Published: 01/16/18

Another voice: Why just Florida?

Cynicism has always been a part of politics, but rarely are politicians so brazen and self-serving as President Donald Trump and his interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, have been over the past week. First they announced a new offshore drilling plan that ...
Published: 01/16/18
Editorial: King’s legacy still relevant in digital age

Editorial: King’s legacy still relevant in digital age

Today’s holiday honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. couldn’t be more timely. At a moment when the nation’s civic dialogue is choking on personal and political division, it is hard to remember an earlier time when role models were role m...
Published: 01/15/18

Another voice: 38 minutes of fear in Hawaii

In 1938, Orson Welles panicked the nation with a false alarm about a Martian invasion in the radio broadcast The War of the Worlds. That was farfetched, of course. But what happened on Saturday, sadly, was not so hard to imagine — or believe.Authorit...
Published: 01/14/18
Updated: 01/16/18
Editorial: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights

Editorial: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights

As it has for decades, Florida stubbornly clings to an inhumane, inefficient and indefensible system of justice that permanently sentences more than 1.5 million residents to second-class citizenship. This state automatically revokes the right to vote...
Published: 01/13/18
Editorial: Speak out against Trump’s vulgar remarks

Editorial: Speak out against Trump’s vulgar remarks

President Donald Trump’s vulgar outbursts during a White House meeting on immigration are racist and indefensible no matter how he parses them. They are not presidential, they undermine U.S. foreign relations and they do not reflect America’s values....
Published: 01/12/18