Thursday, April 29, 2010

Investigations, Indictments and Guilty Pleas at Famous US Teaching Hospitals

Some of the US most prestigious academic medical centers have been receiving unusual scrutiny lately.

Mount Sinai Medical Center and New York - Presbyterian Hospital.

As reported first by the Wall Street Journal,
Federal prosecutors are investigating allegations that bid rigging and fraud at Mount Sinai Medical Center and New York-Presbyterian Hospital resulted in the hospitals awarding contracts worth tens of millions of dollars to outside contractors.

Purchasing officials at the hospitals, two of the city's largest and most prestigious, are alleged to have gotten more than a million dollars in payments from companies that were then given lucrative contracts to perform work such as re-insulating pipes and removing asbestos, according to documents filed in the Southern District of New York.

Nine contractors are involved in the case. So far, eight people and three companies supplying the hospitals have pleaded guilty to charges including bid-rigging, mail fraud and tax fraud. Three more people have been indicted on similar charges.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service have been investigating and the Justice Department's Antitrust Division is prosecuting the allegations in the case.

Some relevant specifics:
The most recent indictment, handed up by a federal grand jury April 6, involved the alleged awarding of more than $195,000 in maintenance and insulation contracts. Mario Perciavalle, associate director of plant services at Mount Sinai, is accused of taking at least $20,500 in cash from a Long Island City company in 2004 and 2005 in exchange for the company, unnamed in documents, winning the deals.

Prosecutors also are pursuing a case involving a former official at New York-Presbyterian, Salvatore Scotto-DiVetta, a supervisor at the hospital's Facilities Operations department. He pleaded guilty in March to rigging bids for re-insulation contracts, the Department of Justice said.

The next day, the Journal reported:
Two New York-Presbyterian Hospital officials and two contractors who did business with the prestigious hospital were indicted on fraud charges Tuesday in the latest cases stemming from a federal investigation into bid-rigging and fraud.

The indictment alleges that the hospital officials—Santo Saglimbeni of Armonk, N.Y., and Emilio Figueroa, whose hometown wasn't given—received payments and gifts in exchange for awarding contracts to certain companies.

And already the box score for this investigation increased:
As a result of the investigation, a total of five hospital employees, 10 people outside the hospitals and six companies have either pleaded guilty or face charges.

The comments by hospital officials had a familiar ring to anyone who has been following the hearings in Washington on the global financial collapse. From the first article:
A Mount Sinai spokesman said the hospital notified the Justice Department 'about the possibility of impropriety immediately after it was identified in an internal audit' and is cooperating with the investigation. The spokesman said the hospital dismissed the employee under investigation and instituted tougher contracting systems.

From the second:
New York-Presbyterian was an 'unknowing victim of these alleged crimes,' a hospital spokeswoman said. She also said that the staffers named in the indictment no longer work at the hospital, and it is cooperating with the investigation.

Partners Healthcare System

Just out today in the Boston Globe:
The US Department of Justice has opened a civil investigation into possible anticompetitive behavior by Partners HealthCare System Inc., the region’s most powerful hospital and physician network.

In a letter sent to Partners and the state’s three largest health insurers on April 19, investigators from the Justice Department’s antitrust division demanded documents relating to Partners’ 'contracting and other practices in health care markets in Eastern Massachusetts.'

The letter, obtained by the Globe, said the probe sought to determine whether the practices violated the Sherman Antitrust Act, which bars companies from using their market power to limit trade or artificially raise prices.

The background is:
Boston-based Partners has been under growing scrutiny because of its market power and ability to draw high prices from insurers. The company employs about 5,500 physicians and operates a half dozen smaller hospitals, in addition to their prestigious Harvard-affiliated Boston teaching hospitals, Mass. General and the Brigham.

Earlier this year, Attorney General Martha Coakley issued a report documenting that Massachusetts insurance companies pay some hospitals and doctors, including those in the Partners network, twice as much money as others for essentially the same patient care. The report pointed to the market clout of the best-paid providers as a main driver of the state’s spiraling health care costs.

A 2008 Globe Spotlight Team series focused on the Boston market found that hospitals such as Mass. General and the Brigham typically are paid 15 to 60 percent more for essentially the same work as other hospitals.

Soon after that series, Coakley launched her investigation into whether Partners and Blue Cross-Blue Shield, the state’s largest health insurer, may have illegally colluded to increase the price of health insurance statewide over the last decade, according to several legal and government sources.

And again, the official response had a familiarly evasive ring:
Partners spokesman Rich Copp yesterday noted that the hospital network already has supplied similar information to investigators from the state attorney general’s office, which launched its own review of Partners’ contracting practices last year. He noted in Partners’ defense that it vies with other providers in the area’s 'highly competitive' health care market.

'The Department of Justice has requested the same information that we have provided to the attorney general’s office,' said Copp. 'We will continue to cooperate with both government agencies during this ongoing analysis of health care in Massachusetts.'


So there it is.  Multiple indictments for and guilty pleas to charges of bid-rigging and fraud at two New York academic medical centers, and state collusion and federal anti-trust investigations of a Massachusetts hospital system.  The issues involve four of the most prestigious teaching hospitals in the US.

Of course, not all the indictments may result in convictions, and the investigations may not result in charges.  But this involves some institutions that at one time would have appeared beyond reproach.  The lack of clear denials from the inevitable official spokespeople, and attempts to deny responsibility for the actions of employees elsewhere identified as "officials" do not provide much reassurance.

Of course, readers of Health Care Renewal would have known that questions could be raised about leadership and governance of these once-revered institutions.  Questions could be raised about the incentives implied by the huge compensation given to the top hired executives at New York - Presbyterian, awarded by a board of trustees that includes some of the leaders of the more prominent failed finance corporations involved in the global financial collapse.  Questions could be raised about the dominant presence of finance leaders and possibly conflicted individuals on the Partners board, and apparent interlocks among Partners leadership and the leadership of the largest health insurer in Massachusetts, which was willing to pay that system so much.

Maybe, instead of lecturing the more lowly among us about our responsibilities to improve health care, the leaders of our previously most august health care institutions need to introspect more about their own responsibility to address the metastasis of "greed and incompetence" in health care from the financial sector.


Anonymous said...

Mount Sinai Hospital also "sells" residency positions to Chinese nationals who need J1 visas. This corrupt Hospital takes money from immigration attorneys in exchange for securing positions in the various residency programs.

Health Blog said...

Thanks for this great information.