Privatization run wild
"A health insurer with a checkered past is preparing to bid on billions of dollars in state government contracts to serve Florida’s poor and disabled residents. And it stands a good chance of winning at least some of that business."
As Florida embarks on its plan to move 1.2 million Medicaid patients into private health plans, WellCare Health Plans of Tampa is widely expected to win state contracts that will shift healthcare for the poor into managed-care programs. The move is an early stage of the Medicaid reforms approved by the Legislature in 2011, pending a green light from the federal government.And isn't this nice:
WellCare's decision to bid, though not unexpected, has sparked an outcry from critics who say they wonder how badly a company must act before it is banned from government contracts — and from serving the state’s most vulnerable residents.
WellCare officials maintain that the company has changed in the two years since it agreed to pay a $137.5 million fraud settlement amid accusations the company bilked the state’s Medicaid and Healthy Kids programs and that it systematically dumped patients with expensive health needs.
“I think we have a highly competent and ethical group now running the company,” said former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, a paid director on the company’s board and chairman of a committee to ensure the company acts ethically and complies with regulations. “Our service will be our best evidence of our corporate integrity.”"The company’s service, however, is what worries some health advocates. Case in point:"
In 2009, WellCare withdrew from a five-county Medicaid pilot program that served as the model for the statewide business that WellCare now seeks."Company with fraud record lines up for new Medicaid contract".
In some cases WellCare's decision disrupted care for patients with long-term health problems, disabilities and mental illnesses.
Critics also slam the federal settlement, finalized in April, which requires the company to repay less than half of the $400 million to $600 million it allegedly siphoned from taxpayers.
Five former executives — including CEO Todd Farha, CFO Paul Behrens and general counsel Thaddeus Bereday — were indicted in March 2011, and are awaiting trial.
Evidence against them includes taped conversations between executives discussing how they could duplicate their bills to the state. The executives also discussed plans to save money by terminating coverage for neonatal babies and terminally ill patients, and throwing parties to reward employees who ousted expensive enrollees, according to whistle-blower documents. ...
... Sean Hellein, the WellCare financial analyst who blew the whistle on the company’s fraudulent bookkeeping in 2007, said the company previously had no problem evading the state’s effort to audit its activities. During one on-site visit by state officials, Hellein said, “The idea was that as long as we could keep them in the dark, everything would be perfect.” If a particularly smart state worker started asking too many questions, Hellein said, WellCare had a remedy: It would simply hire the person away from the state at a much higher salary.
The strategy worked. It took the agency several years to catch on to the company’s strategy of double-billing the state for patient services.
Handing state contracts to fraudsters? No problem. Unemployment benefits for Floridians? Well, that's different.
The Saint Petersburg Times editorial board points out that "artificial obstacles, recounted in a complaint by two workers' rights organizations to the U.S. Labor Department, appear designed to suppress the demand for [unemployment] benefits rather than to make it easier for those who need help to get it. ... Florida has the lowest rate of benefits received in the country, with only 17 percent of the unemployed getting state benefits. The national average is 27 percent." "Florida's jobless facing new hurdles".
"Romney wants to have it both ways"
The Tampa Bay Times editorial board: "Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney wants to have it both ways."
Stripping resources from public schools to give vouchers to students to attend private schools is not doing public schools any favors, as Floridians can attest. America needs a president committed to long-term, systemic improvement in public schools rather than one embracing schemes to starve them to death. ..."In Florida, the next dangerous step toward voucher expansion comes in November, when voucher advocates hope to persuade 60 percent of voters to set aside the state's extra church-state separation protections that have blocked some voucher programs in the past. If approved, Gov. Rick Scott and Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson have signaled they will want the Legislature to consider a universal voucher scheme. Essentially, students could take their share of state dollars and spend it in any public or private school they wished. Is it a coincidence that Scott and Robinson have been the driving force behind the recent controversy in FCAT scoring, all but ensuring more public schools will be deemed failing?" "Romney’s divisive play for vouchers".
Romney has embraced the voucher movement, albeit in a limited way. He wants federal money to follow poor and special needs students to any public, charter or private school "where permitted by law" of their choosing, rather than stay with the local public school. But such a system would be fraught with issues — including the separation of church and state — as experiments in Florida and other states have shown. And it comes at a time when pressures on public schools to be accountable for student success through flawed standardized tests make it easier to shift public opinion toward stripping public schools of resources. That might be defensible if private schools were held to the same standards, but they're not.
"So dirty it’s downright whacky"
"From the start, it was clear that the criminal case against former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer would expose some dirty laundry at the GOP. Now it’s getting so dirty it’s downright whacky."
Greer’s lawyer was prepared to claim that, when he was governor, Charlie Crist made a pass at the former chairman at a Beverly Hills hotel, that he paid two former male lovers to leave the state, and that the governor’s guards covered up numerous drunken “escapades” — including the time the gov allegedly nearly ran over golfers while he drove a golf cart under the influence."Latest Greer claims break new ground in tawdry".
Crist — an abstemious drinker who has fought rumors about his sexuality since and before his 2008 marriage to Carole Oumano — has called the allegations “delusional lies.” Crist reported the matter to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement as evidence of “witness tampering” by Greer for allegedly trying to unlawfully pressure the former governor to change his testimony in the fraud case.
The claims from Greer lawyer Damon Chase arose only after the governor refused to recant his previous written testimony in which Crist said he had no idea that his party chairman in 2009 had taken over RPOF fundraising responsibilities for a cut of the profits. Chase wanted Crist to issue a new sworn affidavit that claimed he and party leaders knew about Greer’s secret fundraising arrangement, which is at the heart of the state’s criminal case against Greer.
Crist refused to file the flip-flop of an affidavit. Chase then moved to depose the former governor to ask him about his drinking habits and his sexuality.
“Jim is desperate and using you as a way to extort Charlie with embarrassing questions. Like ‘when was the last time you [expletive] your neighbor’s sheep’ or ‘are you still beating your wife,’” Crist’s boss and attorney, Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan, wrote in a May 14 email to Chase.
Chase responded: “Charlie clearly lied and now one by one his closest friends are coming out against him because what he did to Greer was just wrong. In the event Charlie remains unwilling to clarify his affidavit, I’m left with no other choice than to discredit him. I don’t find that type of practice particularly tasteful, but sometimes I suppose it’s necessary.’’
Chase pointed out that other Republican insiders said in depositions and affidavits that Crist knew of Greer’s fundraising deal or aspects of it.
"Another election tainted by questions of fairness"
The Washington Post's editorial board: "The last thing the state needs is another election tainted by questions of fairness."
Mr. Scott’s move does not appear to be based on any showing of widespread voter fraud. ..."Interfering with voting rights".
The voter roll effort may be illegal as well as unjustified. Parts of Florida are covered by Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which requires it to obtain advance approval from the U.S. Justice Department for such change. In addition, the 1993 National Voter Registration Act prohibits such purges 90 days before a statewide election, such as Florida’s congressional primaries in August. The Justice Department was right to send Florida officials a letter last month questioning whether the state’s actions comply with those laws.
That was not Florida’s only recent brush with voting rights issues. Last month, a federal judge blocked the state from enforcing sections of a new voting law, including one that imposes a 48-hour deadline for voter registration groups to turn in new forms and another requiring volunteer workers to submit sworn statements vowing to obey state registration laws. U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle termed the deadline “harsh and impractical” and found that the requirement of a sworn statement “could have no purpose other than to discourage voluntary participation in legitimate, indeed constitutionally protected, activities.’’
Florida’s action follows efforts to enact stricter voter identification laws in South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. The Justice Department has already blocked the South Carolina and Texas laws from going into effect under the Voting Rights Act. Virginia’s measure, signed by Gov. Robert McDonnell (R) after the legislature rebuffed his efforts to make the identification requirement less burdensome, has yet to be challenged. The voter ID laws and the Florida effort to purge voter rolls represent ill-advised solutions to a largely imaginary problem. Ensuring voter eligibility is a legitimate state concern, but imposing needless barriers to the exercise of citizens’ constitutional right to vote serves only to erode participatory democracy.
The Miami Herald editors: "Treating legitimate voters as criminals, as the state’s attempted purge implies, remains the wrong way to go." "Duking it out over Florida’s voter purge".
"Unlike Florida, Wisconsin has a relevant political opposition"
Tom Tryon guesses that "the impacts of Walker's win will be negligible in Florida, however."
Scott has aggressively promoted changes in state and local governments with the help of a compliant, Republican-dominated Legislature; unlike Florida, Wisconsin has a relevant political opposition."Wisconsin effect limited here".
In short: Scott didn't need Walker to win a recall, in a very different state, to be emboldened and pursue his agenda.
ACLU purge lawsuit
"The American Civil Liberties Union sued Florida on Friday to stop its controversial program designed to purge noncitizen voters from the rolls." "ACLU sues Florida to stop noncitizen voter purge".
"But they'll be back, just watch"
Nancy Smith worries that
In virtually every session there is a bill, or bills introduced that limit our choice in the interest of somehow improving us as human beings. In the 2012 session it was HB 1401 and SB 1658 -- a pair of bills that would have prohibited food stamp recipients from buying all kinds of products with salt and sugar -- from pretzels and cupcakes to ice cream and soda. Sorry kids, no birthday cake for you."Legislators, When You Hear Those Nanny Notions From Up North, Cover Your Ears".
The bills didn't pass. But they'll be back, just watch.
While it's tempting to use public assistance programs to attack childhood obesity, this is the Florida Legislature that back in the 1990s eliminated physical education in public schools and the one in 1998 that voted to let moms and dads decide whether to put their children in a charter school or in a local public school. Does it make sense that we can't trust the same parents to walk down a supermarket aisle and make the right choices to feed their families?
Lee eyes Tally
"Lee is looking to get back into elected office after leaving the Senate in 2006. The Tampa area real estate and development executive said he decided to run after Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Brandon, opted to challenge scandal-scarred Hillsborough County Property Appraiser Rob Turner this fall." "From President to 'Foot Soldier,' Tom Lee Seeks Senate Comeback".