Thursday, February 22, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Sending a message on health care fraud

The convictions this week of former WellCare executives for various federal crimes arising out of a scheme to defraud the Florida Medicaid program sends a wider message to white-collar criminals. By pursuing criminal charges against individuals rather than letting corporate higher-ups write a big check to solve their problems, the Justice Department warns others who occupy corner offices to think twice before defrauding taxpayers and making the health care system more expensive for everyone.

Under an agreement with Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration, WellCare had agreed to spend 80 percent of the money it received on behavioral health services for the poor. But rather than return the unused money, prosecutors say, WellCare executives inflated spending reports so they could keep the money and cheat Medicaid out of nearly $30 million. To settle corporate fraud charges, WellCare paid $80 million in 2009 and settled with the Justice Department for $137 million in 2010.

But the tenaciousness with which the Justice Department pursued criminal charges against the company's top executives over six years makes this case a national model. The federal trial that started in February came to a close Monday after nearly three weeks of jury deliberations. The convictions against the company's former officials carry some hefty prison time. WellCare former CEO Todd Farha, former CFO Paul Behrens and former vice president William Kale were found guilty of two counts of health care fraud. Each count carries a prison term of up to 10 years. Behrens was also found guilty on other charges. A fourth defendant, former vice president Peter Clay, was found guilty of making false statements to federal agents, a charge that carries a maximum of five years in prison. The men were acquitted on other charges, and the jury deadlocked on still others.

The case has broader implications, since the 80 percent spending requirement under which WellCare operated is similar to a relatively new Affordable Care Act rule that says health insurers of small group and individual policies have to spend at least 80 percent of premium dollars on health-related services or issue a rebate to policyholders. The WellCare case tells company executives who evade this rule by falsifying or mislabeling spending that there are real consequences to being caught.

Health care fraud in the United States costs as much as $250 billion annually, with $100 billion of that stolen from Medicare and Medicaid. This is partly why medical costs have exploded and strains have been put on Medicare's trust fund. The Obama administration has made tackling this fraud a priority, and the Affordable Care Act gives the government new resources, tools and authorities to pursue it. But aggressively bringing criminal charges against health insurance executives who engage in fraud sends an unmistakable message that stealing from taxpayers will not be tolerated.

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Editorial: They value guns, not kids

Editorial: They value guns, not kids

They value guns over kidsSix days after 17 were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High by a teen-ager firing an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, the Florida House refused to even debate a bill banning the sale of assault weapons. The vote, 71 to 36, wasn...
Published: 02/21/18
Editorial: Listen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students demanding change

Editorial: Listen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students demanding change

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are traveling to the state capital today and declaring "never again.íí A prominent Florida Republican fundraiser vows he wonít raise another nickel until his party approves new gun controls. Across F...
Published: 02/19/18

Editorial: No more doubt about Russian meddling in election

The latest indictment by the Justice Department special counsel, Robert Mueller, refutes President Donald Trumpís claims that Russian interference in the 2016 election was a Democratic hoax. The indictment details the lengths Russian conspirators too...
Published: 02/19/18

Another voice: Tips should belong to workers, not their bosses

The Trump administration is under fire for proposing a Labor Department regulation that could result in hotel and restaurant employers dipping into the tips customers leave for their employees, depriving the nationís 14 million hard-working restauran...
Published: 02/18/18
Updated: 02/20/18
Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Itís not popular in Washington or virtually anywhere else these days to express concern about the rising federal deficit. Congressional Republicans who used to be deficit hawks first voted to cut taxes by $1.5 trillion over the next decade, then rais...
Published: 02/17/18
Editorial: Buckhorn should not appeal verdict in firefighterís case

Editorial: Buckhorn should not appeal verdict in firefighterís case

The city of Tampa should have taken Tanja Vidovic seriously from the start when the Tampa firefighter complained about her treatment in the workplace. Now that a jury and judge have spoken, itís time for City Hall to cut its losses, learn from its mi...
Published: 02/15/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Editorial: CareerSource troubles mount as public trust drops

Editorial: CareerSource troubles mount as public trust drops

The dark cloud enveloping Tampa Bayís job placement centers keeps growing. There are accusations of forged documents, evidence of nepotism and concerns about grossly inflated performance numbers that could be tied to receiving more public money and b...
Published: 02/15/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Editorials: Prayers and platitudes after shootings arenít enough

Editorials: Prayers and platitudes after shootings arenít enough

Even before the victims of another mass shooting at another public school were identified, Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, state legislators and members of Congress rushed to South Florida or to social media to offer their thoughts and p...
Published: 02/15/18
Editorial: DCF review should get to the bottom of Hillsborough foster care issues

Editorial: DCF review should get to the bottom of Hillsborough foster care issues

The Florida Department of Children and Families is right to call for a timely and "comprehensive" review of Hillsborough Countyís foster care system. Though the probe is a reaction to a recent case involving a child who was left unattended, the revie...
Published: 02/14/18

A Washington Post editorial: Modernize 911 calling before it becomes an emergency

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Published: 02/13/18
Updated: 02/14/18