Wednesday, September 30, 2009

St. Francis Required To Repay Millions To Federal Government

If Marion County voters ever had a reason to have pause about approving a more than $700 million bond issue to build a new Wishard Hospital, it need look no further than the agreement St. Francis Hospitals entered into with the Justice Department admitting to submitting false claims to Medicare. St. Francis has agreed to pay the federal government more than $6 million to settle the government's claim that it over-billed Medicare. "Hospitals that overcharge Medicare drain critical funds from the Medicare program and increase health-care costs," Daniel Levinson, inspector general for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement. "This settlement demonstrates the federal government's resolve to address this kind of fraudulent conduct."

This case against St. Francis is peanuts compared to the potential case the federal government could pursue against the Marion County Health & Hospital Corporation. HHC has concocted a scheme to bilk the federal government's Medicaid program out of potentially hundreds of millions of dollars. Under the scheme, HHC is leasing a chain of nursing homes across the state of Indiana from Eagle Care, Inc. HHC, in turn, leases the facilities back to American Senior Communities, a for-profit nursing home company. Creating the illusion that these facilities are owned by a county hospital providing indigent care, HHC is able to get reimbursements from Medicaid at about double the rate other nursing homes receive. While an average nursing home collects close to $4,000 per resident per month, HHC is collecting about $8,000 a month for those same residents according to figures Carl Moldthan of the Indianapolis Taxpayers Association obtained from HHC. It is these revenues that HHC is relying upon to finance at least $38 million a year it anticipates will be needed to pay debt service on the bonds.

It's only a matter of time before other nursing homes start complaining to the federal government and the Justice Department steps in and reviews HHC's Medicaid reimbursements. Further, the Obama administration has already stated it will find more than $600 billion in Medicare and Medicaid cuts over the next ten years to help pay for his health care plan. If the government puts a stop to this scheme, HHC will have to turn to Marion County property taxes and levy new property taxes to make up the difference. It will not need approval from Marion County voters to do this if voters approve the November special election referendum. That referendum will allow HHC to pledge property tax revenues to finance the bonds. It's a house of cards just waiting to fall. And when it does, Marion County property taxpayers will face one of the largest tax increases in history.

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