Trump’s pardons included healthcare execs behind massive frauds

At the last minute, President Donald Trump granted pardons to several individuals convicted in huge Medicare swindles that prosecutors alleged often harmed or endangered elderly and infirm patients while fleecing taxpayers.

“These aren’t just technical financial crimes. These were major, major crimes,” said Louis Saccoccio, chief executive officer of the National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association, an advocacy group.

The list of some 200 Trump pardons or commutations, most issued as he vacated the White House this week, included at least seven doctors or health care entrepreneurs who ran discredited health care enterprises, from nursing homes to pain clinics. One is a former doctor and California hospital owner embroiled in a massive workers’ compensation kickback scheme that prosecutors alleged prompted more than 14,000 dubious spinal surgeries. Another was in prison after prosecutors accused him of ripping off more than $1 billion from Medicare and Medicaid through nursing homes and other senior care facilities, among the largest frauds in U.S. history.

“All of us are shaking our heads with these insurance fraud criminals just walking free,” said Matthew Smith, executive director of the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud. The White House argued all deserved a second chance. One man was said to have devoted himself to prayer, while another planned to resume charity work or other community service. Others won clemency at the request of prominent Republican ex-attorneys general or others who argued their crimes were victimless or said critical errors by prosecutors had led to improper convictions.

Trump commuted the sentence of former nursing home magnate Philip Esformes in late December. He was serving a 20-year sentence for bilking $1 billion from Medicare and Medicaid. An FBI agent called him “a man driven by almost unbounded greed.” Prosecutors said that Esformes used proceeds from his crimes to make a series of “extravagant purchases, including luxury automobiles and a $360,000 watch.”

Esformes also bribed the basketball coach at the University of Pennsylvania “in exchange for his assistance in gaining admission for his son into the university,” according to prosecutors.

Fraud investigators had cheered the conviction. In 2019, the National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association gave its annual award to the team responsible for making the case. Saccoccio said that such cases are complex and that investigators sometimes spend years and put their “heart and soul” into them. “They get a conviction and then they see this happen. It has to be somewhat demoralizing.”

Tim McCormack, a Maine lawyer who represented a whistleblower in a 2007 kickback case involving Esformes, said these cases “are not just about stealing money.”

“This is about betraying their duty to their patients. This is about using their vulnerable, sick and trusting patients as an ATM to line their already rich pockets,” he said. He added: “These pardons send the message that if you are rich and connected and powerful enough, then you are above the law.”

The Trump White House saw things much differently.

“While in prison, Mr. Esformes, who is 52, has been devoted to prayer and repentance and is in declining health,” the White House pardon statement said.

The White House said the action was backed by former Attorneys General Edwin Meese and Michael Mukasey, while Ken Starr, one of Trump’s lawyers in his first impeachment trial, filed briefs in support of his appeal claiming prosecutorial misconduct related to violating attorney-client privilege.

Trump also commuted the sentence of Salomon Melgen, a Florida eye doctor who had served four years in federal prison for fraud. That case also ensnared U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who was acquitted in the case and helped seek the action for his friend, according to the White House.

Prosecutors had accused Melgen of endangering patients with needless injections to treat macular degeneration and other unnecessary medical care, describing his actions as “truly horrific” and “barbaric and inhumane,” according to a court filing.

Melgen “not only defrauded the Medicare program of tens of millions of dollars, but he abused his patients — who were elderly, infirm, and often disabled — in the process,” prosecutors wrote.

These treatments “involved sticking needles in their eyes, burning their retinas with a laser, and injecting dyes into their bloodstream.”

Prosecutors said the scheme raked in “a staggering amount of money.” Between 2008 and 2013, Medicare paid the solo practitioner about $100 million. He took in an additional $10 million from Medicaid, the government health care program for low-income people, $62 million from private insurance, and approximately $3 million in patients’ payments, prosecutors said.

In commuting Melgen’s sentence, Trump cited support from Menendez and U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.). “Numerous patients and friends testify to his generosity in treating all patients, especially those unable to pay or unable to afford healthcare insurance,” the statement said.

In a statement, Melgen, 66, thanked Trump and said his decision ended “a serious miscarriage of justice.”

“Throughout this ordeal, I have come to realize the very deep flaws in our justice system and how people are at the complete mercy of prosecutors and judges. As of today, I am committed to fighting for unjustly incarcerated people,” Melgen said. He denied harming any patients.

Faustino Bernadett, a former California anesthesiologist and hospital owner, received a full pardon. He had been sentenced to 15 months in prison in connection with a scheme that paid kickbacks to doctors for admitting patients to Pacific Hospital of Long Beach for spinal surgery and other treatments.

“As a physician himself, defendant knew that exchanging thousands of dollars in kickbacks in return for spinal surgery services was illegal and unethical,” prosecutors wrote.

Many of the spinal surgery patients “were injured workers covered by workers’ compensation insurance. Those patient-victims were often blue-collar workers who were especially vulnerable as a result of their injuries,” according to prosecutors.

The White House said the conviction “was the only major blemish” on the doctor’s record. While Bernadett failed to report the kickback scheme, “he was not part of the underlying scheme itself,” according to the White House.

The White House also said Bernadett was involved in numerous charitable activities, including “helping protect his community from COVID-19.” “President Trump determined that it is in the interests of justice and Dr. Bernadett’s community that he may continue his volunteer and charitable work,” the White House statement read.

Others who received pardons or commutations included Sholam Weiss, who was said to have been issued the longest sentence ever for a white collar crime — 835 years. “Mr. Weiss was convicted of racketeering, wire fraud, money laundering, and obstruction of justice, for which he has already served over 18 years and paid substantial restitution. He is 66 years old and suffers from chronic health conditions,” according to the White House.

John Davis, the former CEO of Comprehensive Pain Specialists, the Tennessee-based chain of pain management clinics, had spent four months in prison. Federal prosecutors charged Davis with accepting more than $750,000 in illegal bribes and kickbacks in a scheme that billed Medicare $4.6 million for durable medical equipment.

Trump’s pardon statement cited support from country singer Luke Bryan, said to be a friend of Davis’.

“Notably, no one suffered financially as a result of his crime and he has no other criminal record,” the White House statement reads.

“Prior to his conviction, Mr. Davis was well known in his community as an active supporter of local charities. He is described as hardworking and deeply committed to his family and country. Mr. Davis and his wife have been married for 15 years, and he is the father of three young children.”

CPS was the subject of a November 2017 investigation by KHN that scrutinized its Medicare billings for urine drug testing. Medicare paid the company at least $11 million for urine screenings and related tests in 2014, when five of CPS’ medical professionals stood among the nation’s top such Medicare billers.

Have we forgotten the true meaning of Labor Day?

https://theconversation.com/have-we-forgotten-the-true-meaning-of-labor-day-64526

Labor Day is a U.S. national holiday held the first Monday every September. Unlike most U.S. holidays, it is a strange celebration without rituals, except for shopping and barbecuing. For most people it simply marks the last weekend of summer and the start of the school year.

The holiday’s founders in the late 1800s envisioned something very different from what the day has become. The founders were looking for two things: a means of unifying union workers and a reduction in work time.

History of Labor Day

The first Labor Day occurred in 1882 in New York City under the direction of that city’s Central Labor Union.

In the 1800s, unions covered only a small fraction of workers and were balkanized and relatively weak. The goal of organizations like the Central Labor Union and more modern-day counterparts like the AFL-CIO was to bring many small unions together to achieve a critical mass and power. The organizers of the first Labor Day were interested in creating an event that brought different types of workers together to meet each other and recognize their common interests.

However, the organizers had a large problem: No government or company recognized the first Monday in September as a day off work. The issue was solved temporarily by declaring a one-day strike in the city. All striking workers were expected to march in a parade and then eat and drink at a giant picnic afterwards.

The New York Tribune’s reporter covering the event felt the entire day was like one long political barbecue, with “rather dull speeches.”

Why was Labor Day invented?

Labor Day came about because workers felt they were spending too many hours and days on the job.

In the 1830s, manufacturing workers were putting in 70-hour weeks on average. Sixty years later, in 1890, hours of work had dropped, although the average manufacturing worker still toiled in a factory 60 hours a week.

These long working hours caused many union organizers to focus on winning a shorter eight-hour work day. They also focused on getting workers more days off, such as the Labor Day holiday, and reducing the workweek to just six days.

These early organizers clearly won since the most recent data show that the average person working in manufacturing is employed for a bit over 40 hours a week and most people work only five days a week.

Surprisingly, many politicians and business owners were actually in favor of giving workers more time off. That’s because workers who had no free time were not able to spend their wages on traveling, entertainment or dining out.

As the U.S. economy expanded beyond farming and basic manufacturing in the late 1800s and early 1900s, it became important for businesses to find consumers interested in buying the products and services being produced in ever greater amounts. Shortening the work week was one way of turning the working class into the consuming class.

Common misconceptions

The common misconception is that since Labor Day is a national holiday, everyone gets the day off. Nothing could be further from the truth.

While the first Labor Day was created by striking, the idea of a special holiday for workers was easy for politicians to support. It was easy because proclaiming a holiday, like Mother’s Day, costs legislators nothing and benefits them by currying favor with voters. In 1887, Oregon, Colorado, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey all declared a special legal holiday in September to celebrate workers.

Within 12 years, half the states in the country recognized Labor Day as a holiday. It became a national holiday in June 1894 when President Grover Cleveland signed the Labor Day bill into law. While most people interpreted this as recognizing the day as a national vacation, Congress’ proclamation covers only federal employees. It is up to each state to declare its own legal holidays.

Moreover, proclaiming any day an official holiday means little, as an official holiday does not require private employers and even some government agencies to give their workers the day off. Many stores are open on Labor Day. Essential government services in protection and transportation continue to function, and even less essential programs like national parks are open. Because not everyone is given time off on Labor Day, union workers as recently as the 1930s were being urged to stage one-day strikes if their employer refused to give them the day off.

In the president’s annual Labor Day declaration last year, Obama encouraged Americans “to observe this day with appropriate programs, ceremonies and activities that honor the contributions and resilience of working Americans.”

The proclamation, however, does not officially declare that anyone gets time off.

Controversy: Militants and founders

Today most people in the U.S. think of Labor Day as a noncontroversial holiday.

There is no family drama like at Thanksgiving, no religious issues like at Christmas. However, 100 years ago there was controversy.

The first controversy that people fought over was how militant workers should act on a day designed to honor workers. Communist, Marxist and socialist members of the trade union movement supported May 1 as an international day of demonstrations, street protests and even violence, which continues even today.

More moderate trade union members, however, advocated for a September Labor Day of parades and picnics. In the U.S., picnics, instead of street protests, won the day.

There is also dispute over who suggested the idea. The earliest history from the mid-1930s credits Peter J. McGuire, who founded the New York City Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, in 1881 with suggesting a date that would fall “nearly midway between the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving” that “would publicly show the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations.”

Later scholarship from the early 1970s makes an excellent case that Matthew Maguire, a representative from the Machinists Union, actually was the founder of Labor Day. However, because Matthew Maguire was seen as too radical, the more moderate Peter McGuire was given the credit.

Who actually came up with the idea will likely never be known, but you can vote online here to express your view.

Have we lost the spirit of Labor Day?

Today Labor Day is no longer about trade unionists marching down the street with banners and their tools of trade. Instead, it is a confused holiday with no associated rituals.

The original holiday was meant to handle a problem of long working hours and no time off. Although the battle over these issues would seem to have been won long ago, this issue is starting to come back with a vengeance, not for manufacturing workers but for highly skilled white-collar workers, many of whom are constantly connected to work.

If you work all the time and never really take a vacation, start a new ritual that honors the original spirit of Labor Day. Give yourself the day off. Don’t go in to work. Shut off your phone, computer and other electronic devices connecting you to your daily grind. Then go to a barbecue, like the original participants did over a century ago, and celebrate having at least one day off from work during the year!

 

 

 

 

Labor Day 2020

https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/labor-day-1

Labor Day Purpose and History

Labor Day 2020 will occur on Monday, September 7. Labor Day pays tribute to the contributions and achievements of American workers and is traditionally observed on the first Monday in September. It was created by the labor movement in the late 19th century and became a federal holiday in 1894. Labor Day weekend also symbolizes the end of summer for many Americans, and is celebrated with parties, street parades and athletic events.

Why Do We Celebrate Labor Day?

Labor Day, an annual celebration of workers and their achievements, originated during one of American labor history’s most dismal chapters.

In the late 1800s, at the height of the Industrial Revolution in the United States, the average American worked 12-hour days and seven-day weeks in order to eke out a basic living. Despite restrictions in some states, children as young as 5 or 6 toiled in mills, factories and mines across the country, earning a fraction of their adult counterparts’ wages.

People of all ages, particularly the very poor and recent immigrants, often faced extremely unsafe working conditions, with insufficient access to fresh air, sanitary facilities and breaks.

As manufacturing increasingly supplanted agriculture as the wellspring of American employment, labor unions, which had first appeared in the late 18th century, grew more prominent and vocal. They began organizing strikes and rallies to protest poor conditions and compel employers to renegotiate hours and pay.

Many of these events turned violent during this period, including the infamous Haymarket Riot of 1886, in which several Chicago policemen and workers were killed. Others gave rise to longstanding traditions: On September 5, 1882, 10,000 workers took unpaid time off to march from City Hall to Union Square in New York City, holding the first Labor Day parade in U.S. history.

The idea of a “workingmen’s holiday,” celebrated on the first Monday in September, caught on in other industrial centers across the country, and many states passed legislation recognizing it. Congress would not legalize the holiday until 12 years later, when a watershed moment in American labor history brought workers’ rights squarely into the public’s view. On May 11, 1894, employees of the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago went on strike to protest wage cuts and the firing of union representatives.

On June 26, the American Railroad Union, led by Eugene V. Debs, called for a boycott of all Pullman railway cars, crippling railroad traffic nationwide. To break the Pullman strike, the federal government dispatched troops to Chicago, unleashing a wave of riots that resulted in the deaths of more than a dozen workers.

The History behind Labor Day - YouTube

Who Created Labor Day?

In the wake of this massive unrest and in an attempt to repair ties with American workers, Congress passed an act making Labor Day a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories. On June 28, 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed it into law. More than a century later, the true founder of Labor Day has yet to be identified.

Many credit Peter J. McGuire, cofounder of the American Federation of Labor, while others have suggested that Matthew Maguire, a secretary of the Central Labor Union, first proposed the holiday.

Labor Day Celebrations

Labor Day is still celebrated in cities and towns across the United States with parades, picnics, barbecues, fireworks displays and other public gatherings. For many Americans, particularly children and young adults, it represents the end of the summer and the start of the back-to-school season.

 

 

 

 

DOJ charges execs, others with elaborate $1.4B billing scheme using rural hospitals

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/doj-charges-execs-others-with-elaborate-14b-billing-scheme-using-rural-h/580785/

Office of Attorney Recruitment & Management | Department of Justice

Dive Brief:

  • The U.S. Department of Justice is charging 10 defendants for an “elaborate” pass-through billing scheme that used small rural hospitals across three states as shells to submit fraudulent claims for laboratory testing to commercial insurers, jacking up reimbursement.
  • The defendants, including hospital executives, lab owners and recruiters, billed private payers roughly $1.4 billion from November 2015 to February 2018 for pricey lab testing, reaping $400 million.
  • The four rural hospitals used in the scheme are: Cambellton-Graceville Hospital, a 25-bed rural facility in Florida; Regional General Hospital of Williston, a 40-bed hospital in Florida; Chestatee Regional Hospital, a 49-bed facility in Georgia; and Putnam County Memorial Hospital, a 25-bed hospital in Missouri. Only Putnam emerged from the scheme relatively unscathed: Chestatee was sold to a health system that plans to replace it with a newer facility, Cambellton-Graceville closed in 2017 and RGH of Williston was sold for $100 to an accounting firm earlier this month.

Dive Insight:

The indictment, filed in the Middle District of Florida and unsealed Monday, alleges the 10 defendants, using management companies they owned, would take over rural hospitals often struggling financially. They would then bill commercial payers for millions of dollars for pricey urine analysis drug tests and blood tests through the rural hospitals, though the tests were normally conducted at outside labs, and launder the money to hide their trail and distribute proceeds.

The rural hospitals had negotiated rates with commercial insurers for higher reimbursement for tests than if they’d been run at an outside labs, so the facilities were used as a shell for fraudulent billing for often medically unnecessary tests, the indictment alleges.

The defendants, aged 34 to 60, would get urine and other samples by paying kickbacks to recruiters and healthcare providers, like sober homes and substance abuse treatment centers.

Screening urine tests, to determine the presence or absence of a substance in a patient’s system, is generally inexpensive and simple — it can be done at a substance abuse facility, a doctor’s office or a lab. But confirmatory tests, to identify concentration of a drug, are more precise and sensitive and have to be done at a sophisticated lab.

As such they’re more expensive and are typically reimbursed at higher rates than screening urine tests. None of the rural hospitals had the capacity to conduct confirmatory tests, or blood tests, on a large scale, but frequently billed in-network insurers, including CVS Health-owned Aetna, Florida Blue and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia, for the service from 2015 to 2018, the indictment says.

Rural hospitals are facing unprecedented financial stress amid the pandemic, but have been fighting to keep their doors open for years against shrinking reimbursement and lowering patient volume. That can give bad actors an opportunity to come in and assume control.

One of the defendants, Jorge Perez, 60, owns a Miami-based hospital operator called Empower, which has seen many of its facilities fail after insurers refused to pay for suspect billing. Half of rural hospital bankruptcies last year were affiliated with Empower, which controlled 18 hospitals across eight states at the height of the operation. Over the past two years, 12 of the hospitals have declared bankruptcy. Eight have closed, leaving their rural communities without healthcare and a source of jobs.

“Schemes that exploit rural hospitals are particularly egregious as they can undermine access to care in underserved communities,” Thomas South, a deputy assistant inspector general in the Office of Personnel Management Office of Inspector General, said in a statement.

 

 

 

 

 

Ascension will protect pay of employees shifted, unable to work during pandemic, CEO says

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/compensation-issues/ascension-will-protect-pay-of-employees-shifted-unable-to-work-during-pandemic-ceo-says.html?utm_medium=email

St. Vincent's Health System | LinkedIn

In an email to 160,000 employees, Ascension’s CEO said the St. Louis-based hospital system will protect their pay if they’re temporarily assigned to different jobs or unable to work for reasons linked to COVID-19.

In the April 3 email, Ascension President and CEO Joseph R. Impicciche said the protection will come through such programs as furlough pay, pay continuation, PTO advance, worker’s compensation and short-term disability.

Ascension also will offer daycare subsidies and reimbursements for employees who care for infected patients and may need to stay in a hotel for social-distancing purposes, the email stated.

“We are blessed to be able to make this commitment and appreciate the tremendous work and flexibility of our associates, leaders and physicians in providing compassionate, personalized care,” Mr. Impicciche wrote. “I am proud to witness the way all associates have come together to address the challenges of today, just like we have throughout our history.”

 

 

 

Amazon Worker Fired After Staging Walkout Over Company’s Handling Of Coronavirus Risk

https://www.yahoo.com/huffpost/amazon-fires-worker-chris-smalls-033240313.html

Amazon Worker Fired After Staging Walkout Over Company's Handling ...

Amazon fired an employee who helped organize a walkout at one of its fulfillment centers over the company’s response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic on Monday.

Chris Smalls, the employee who helped organize the demonstration, said he felt Amazon had failed to enact adequate measures to protect workers at the facility as many Americans turn to online shopping as stay-at-home mandates expand around the country. Smalls was one of a small group who walked out at a fulfillment center on Staten Island, demanding the company close the site and sanitize it before reopening. He said Amazon had notified employees at the warehouse of one confirmed case of the virus but claimed there were several others that hadn’t yet been reported.

Shortly after the strike, Smalls was terminated after working at Amazon for five years.

“Amazon would rather fire workers than face up to its total failure to do what it should to keep us, our families, and our communities safe,” Smalls said in a statement obtained by HuffPost. “I am outraged and disappointed, but I’m not shocked. As usual, Amazon would rather sweep a problem under the rug than act to keep workers and working communities safe.”

Amazon disputed Smalls’ account in a statement on Monday, saying he had been warned several times for “violating social distancing guidelines” and had been fired after failing to stay home. The company said Smalls’ claims were “simply unfounded.”

“He was also found to have had close contact with a diagnosed associate with a confirmed case of COVID-19 and was asked to remain home with pay for 14 days, which is a measure we’re taking at sites around the world,” a company spokesperson told HuffPost. “Despite that instruction to stay home with pay, he came onsite today, March 30, further putting the teams at risk. This is unacceptable and we have terminated his employment as a result of these multiple safety issues.”

The company also said just 15 employees out of 5,000 at its Staten Island location had participated in the demonstration.

“Our employees are heroes fighting for their communities and helping people get critical items they need in this crisis,” the spokesperson said. “Like all businesses grappling with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, we are working hard to keep employees safe while serving communities and the most vulnerable.”

The Washington Post notes workers in at least 21 Amazon warehouses and shipping facilities in the U.S. have tested positive for the virus.

Employees at several other major companies staged walkouts on Monday. Workers at Instacart, the grocery delivery company, went on strike nationwide to demand better protections, including hazard pay and expanded paid sick leave. And employees at Whole Foods, owned by Amazon, said they planned to hold a nationwide “sick out” on Tuesday.

Workers at the Staten Island warehouse were first told last week that an employee had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, but they told HuffPost’s Emily Peck that business was “normal” and “running just as it had been” after the declaration. Others said they were afraid of getting sick at work, saying there wasn’t enough protection equipment on site, such as hand sanitizer or masks.

Amazon said it has extended a range of benefits to help protect workers during the pandemic, including extended paid leave options for some employees and increased health and safety measures. Employees diagnosed with COVID-19 are entitled to up to two weeks of paid leave, and Amazon says it notifies workers at sites with infected individuals.

The ongoing efforts by warehouse workers throughout the coronavirus pandemic have garnered support from several lawmakers. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) wrote Monday that the employees were simply “demanding dignity.”

“When people work an hourly job, it’s suggested in many ways that you‘re unimportant or expendable,” she wrote on Twitter. “Except you aren’t. Everyone deserves safe work, paid leave, & a living wage.”

 

 

 

California surgeon gets prison time for role in $580M billing fraud scheme

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/legal-regulatory-issues/california-surgeon-gets-prison-time-for-role-in-580m-billing-fraud-scheme.html?origin=cfoe&utm_source=cfoe

Image result for workers comp fraud and kickbacks

An orthopedic surgeon was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison Nov. 22 for his role in a healthcare fraud scheme that resulted in the submission of more than $580 million in fraudulent claims, mostly to California’s worker compensation system, according to the Department of Justice.

Daniel Capen, MD, was sentenced more than a year after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and soliciting and receiving kickbacks for healthcare referrals. He was one of 17 defendants charged in relation to the government’s investigation into kickbacks physicians received for patient referrals for spinal surgeries performed at Pacific Hospital in Long Beach, Calif.

Dr. Capen received at least $5 million in kickbacks for referring surgeries to Pacific Hospital and for referring services to organizations affiliated with the hospital. He allegedly accounted for $142 million of Pacific Hospital’s claims to insurers between 1998 and 2013, according to the Justice Department.

In addition to the prison term, Dr. Capen was ordered to forfeit $5 million to the federal government and pay a $500,000 fine.