-by Stacey Singer
July 11, 2011- In Sunday’s Palm Beach Post I described a former Solantic doctor’s account of working conditions at the urgent care chain founded by now-Gov. Rick Scott and his former Columbia/HCA employee, Karen Bowling.
The backstory on how that doctor’s allegations came to light, and whether federal Medicare investigators acted on them, is below:
During the height of the 2010 GOP gubernatorial race, a lawyer for then-Attorney General Bill McCollum’s campaign forwarded an incendiary email to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement concerning the Solantic urgent care business owned by candidate Rick Scott.
That email came from a fired Solantic medical director, Dr. Randy Prokes, whose animosity for Scott, whom he referred to as “Career Scammer,” was obvious.
In the email, Prokes alleged that Solantic had overbilled Medicare for perhaps two years by using his name to charge for physician visits that had happened with nurses, not doctors. Medicare pays clinics 15 percent less for nurse practitioner visits, he noted.
“I believe that Medicare patients were always billed at full prices even when a physician was NOT in the office,” he wrote. “I have written copies of charts and charges that prove that Solantic was fraudulently billing under MY NAME….I NEVER SAW THOSE PATIENTS.”
(Click here to read the entire email)
Prokes also said that another doctor had quit and filed suit against Solantic because it was using his name and license in a way he had not approved, without his knowledge.
The allegations found their way to the desk of FDLE Inspector Mark Mitchell on Aug. 5, just 19 days before Scott would edge McCollum out of the Republican gubernatorial primary with a slim 2.8 percent margin of victory.
Mitchell kept a log of how he handled the politically charged accusations.
His report and related documentation, obtained by The Palm Beach Post through an open-records request, showed that Mitchell spent much of his energies assessing whether FDLE had jurisdiction to investigate. By Aug. 10, two weeks before the primary, Mitchell came to the conclusion that it was a federal matter.
Mitchell sent the Prokes email, his report, and documentation of interviews and reviews done on behalf of the Agency for Health Care Administration, to a special agent at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General in Jacksonville, Robert Murphy.
At that point, the state’s involvement came to an end. The documents in Mitchell’s file became public records under Florida Statute 119.
The federal investigator, Mitchell wrote, “would take the necessary action and report the outcome back to Inspector Mitchell.”
Eleven months later, with Scott in the Governor’s office, a spokesman for FDLE says there has been no further communication with federal investigators.
As to the status of any federal action?
Donald White, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General, said billing investigations typically take years, not months. He would not discuss whether his agency had an open investigation of Solantic.
“As a standard matter of investigative policy, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General neither confirms nor denies matters that may be pending before the agency,” White said.