Wednesday, May 06, 2009

WellCare Settles, Accepts Deferred Prosecution Agreement

'Tis the season for deferred prosecution agreements for health care organizations. As reported by the Wall Street Journal:

WellCare Health Plans Inc. agreed to pay $80 million to settle a Florida Medicaid fraud investigation that has embroiled the company since the fall of 2007, previously prompting a management shake-up and restatement of more than three years of the company's earnings.

The settlement resolves federal and state criminal probes into allegations that WellCare defrauded Florida benefits programs for low-income adults and children of about $40 million by improperly inflating what it spent on care.

WellCare, based in Tampa, Fla., administers medical benefits for about 2.5 million enrollees in government-sponsored plans in several states.

Under a deferred prosecution agreement, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida in Tampa filed a fraud conspiracy charge against the company but said it wouldn't prosecute the case if WellCare meets all of the deal's terms.

U.S. Attorney A. Brian Albritton said in a news conference Tuesday that his office could have pursued a conviction but that it likely would have put the insurer out of business, hurting customers, innocent employees and shareholders. In penalizing the company, 'we have, at the same time, tried to avoid crushing it,' he said.

Under the terms, WellCare must forfeit $40 million and pay another $40 million in restitution to Florida's Medicaid and 'Healthy Kids' plans. WellCare also has agreed 'to accept and acknowledge full responsibility for the conduct that led to the government's investigations,' according to the deferred prosecution agreement. The company declined to elaborate.

In addition, the company also must retain an independent monitor to review its business operations, cooperate with the government's ongoing investigations and implement new procedures within 60 days to prevent future abuse or faulty reports to state health care programs.

This was not the first bit of trouble WellCare got itself into. We posted here about how the state of Connecticut stopped WellCare from running a plan for poor children after the company refused to reveal what it was paying physicians, and why it was failing to pay for particular services.

So, as we have found from blogging on Health Care Renewal for a while, organizations that are found to be committing one sort of mischief often are also found to be committing another sort.

We also see some other familiar patterns. While human beings authorized or committed the acts that got the organization in trouble, rarely do these people seem to suffer any negative consequences. At most, the organization may pay a seemingly large fine. This, however, may come out of dividends or the stock price, dispersing the cost to stock-holders, or out of salaries across the board. Thus, those who got the organization into trouble are unlikely to feel pain from it. Perhaps because of reverence for all organizations related to health care, and fear that the bankruptcy of any health care organization, even a health care insurance company, will leave patients in the lurch, prosecutors do not seem inclined to actually prosecute such organizations. The net effect, though, seems to be that dishonest executives of health care organizations can continue to act with impunity.

Until bad leadership of health care organizations leads to negative consequences for those practicing it, health care leadership can be expected to continuously degrade.

By the way, one member of the WellCare board of directors is Regina Herzlinger, a well known and prolific health policy expert, and holds the Nancy R. McPherson Professor of Business Administration Chair of the Harvard Business School. As far as I know, Prof Herzlinger is one of the many health policy experts who avoids discussing the sorts of problems with the accountability, integrity, and transparency of health care leadership which is grist for the mill here at Health Care Renewal. Yet under the stewardship of such an august expert, WellCare had to "accept and acknowledge full responsibility for ... conduct" that included fraud. Perhaps, Prof Herzlinger, like many other main stream health policy experts, should learn to acknowledge that health care leadership may be unaccountable, opaque, dishonest, and sometimes flagrantly corrupt. Furthermore, Prof Herzlinger, like many other well-paid board members of health care organization, should pay a bit more attention to the mischief being committed by those who answer to her.


Matthew Holt said...

I'm looking forward to you posting the letter Regi's lawyer sends you. Hope it's less obscure that the one he sent me!

Roy M. Poses MD said...

And what did he send you?