Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Whistleblower - lipstick on a pig

Talk about putting lipstick on a pig. Did you see the story in today's ETN about St. V's agreeing to pay $1.9 million to the federal government for what amounts to Medicare fraud. By no means am I saying what St. V's did was right. Apparently, from 2001-2003, Vincent was jacking up the prices of certain procedures so they'd fall under this "outlier" category and then getting Medicare to reimburse them. (More details are in the print version of the story than the online one I've linked to, unless it's been updated). So, St. V's was basically ripping off the federal government, although they won't admit to it. (The $1.9 million payout just to "put something behind them" - I'm paraphrasing, admits enough.)

It was action brought by New Jersey-based "independent hospital consultant" Anthony Kite that brought on the payment. In press coverage, Kite is classified as a whistleblower- yeah, right. I'll agree, he blew the whistle on St. Vincent's and about eight other hospitals performing similar fraud, but Kite wasn't even employed by St. Vincent. No, Mr. Kite could be more accurately described as an extortionist.

First of all, Kite is from New Jersey, so that should tell you something (and I felt this way about NJ people long before the Sopranos made it fashionable). Second, when I Googled his name, I didn't find any listing for a hospital consulting business. I did find several stories about extortion schemes similar to the one he pulled on Vincent, including some published by his apparent employer - the law firm of Phillips and Cohen.

Here's how it works: Kite is the front man, who likely has connections and knows how to discover which hospitals have been pulling this scam on Medicare (lots of scamming going on here). So, he threatens to sue and expose the hospital, which settles with Phillips and Cohen, which pulls a nice commission from the deal. The rest goes to the federal government, and everybody is happy, except for the taxpayers, who have overpaid this hospital first and are now contributing to the ever-accumulating wealth of this law firm. Then again, if it wasn't for the meddling law firm (shades of Scooby Doo here. "They would have gotten away with it if it wasn't for.....'), the federal government probably would have recouped nothing. So, I guess we can give them some due, but to call Kite a "whistleblower" is to put him in the same class with people who have taken serious personal risks and in some cases paid a hefty price to expose wrongdoings.

Maybe "extortionist"' is too strong of a term. Let's just call him a mercenary and leave it at that.



Stan Langerhaus said...

More power to him, IMHO. The rights given to average joe citizen under the Federal False Claims Act to do the government's job is one of few remaining avenues to make businesses come to reckoning for ripping off the government and therefore the general citizenry. The fact that a person of questionable character or motives exposes the business and thereby takes a handsome reward should not be part of the equation.
But try to explain that to the national chamber of commerce which has been trying to repeal or defang the law for quite a long time.

Ralph said...

Thanks for your support.