White House wants more aggressive effort on Medicare, Medicaid billing errors

By Fred Schulte, Center for Public Integrity 

Shaun Donovan, director of the Office of Management and Budget

Shaun Donovan, director of the Office of Management and Budget

White House budget director Shaun Donovan called for a “more aggressive strategy” to thwart improper government payments to doctors, hospitals and insurance companies in a previously undisclosed letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell earlier this year.

Government health care programs covering millions of Americans waste billions of tax dollars every year through these “improper” payments, Donovan said in the Feb. 26, 2015 letter. (more…)

Democracy inaction: old equipment and partisan battles threaten election integrity nationwide

By Nicholas Kusnetz, Center for Public Integrity voting

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The offices in a former Kohl’s department store here look inconsequential enough — linoleum floors, fluorescent lights and cookie-cutter furniture. But what happens in this strip mall, and other equally nondescript settings nationwide, could in fact be crucial to the struggle over America’s voting laws and apparatus — a struggle that may go a long way toward determining the outcome of next November’s presidential election.

The Franklin County Board of Elections moved to the north side of this capital city last year after using the site in 2012 to accommodate the rush of people who cast their ballots during Ohio’s early voting period. But that early voting policy is still not set in stone — its duration and details have been stretched and squeezed repeatedly over the past few years by both state law and court order, part of a bitter clash between Democrats and Republicans over access to the ballot, electoral integrity and resources. (more…)

Bury excess plutonium, don’t turn it into fuel, study says

The multi-billion dollar MOX plant under construction near Aiken, South Carolina in 2013

The multi-billion dollar MOX plant under construction near Aiken, South Carolina in 2013

By Patrick Malone and Douglas Birch, Center for Public Integrity 

A team of experts has confirmed what the Energy Department has been saying for two years — that burying 34 tons of weapons-grade plutonium would be far cheaper and more practical than completing a multibillion-dollar plant that would turn the radioactive material into commercial reactor fuel.

The report raises pressure on Congress to walk away from a costly project that has been plagued by rapidly escalating costs and an absence of any customers for the fuel it is supposed to produce. (more…)

The FBI built a database that can catch rapists — almost nobody uses it

By T. Christian Miller, ProPublica  FBI-seal

This story was co-published with The Atlantic.

QUANTICO, Va. — More than 30 years ago, the Federal Bureau of Investigation launched a revolutionary computer system in a bomb shelter two floors beneath the cafeteria of its national academy. Dubbed the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program, or ViCAP, it was a database designed to help catch the nation’s most violent offenders by linking together unsolved crimes. A serial rapist wielding a favorite knife in one attack might be identified when he used the same knife elsewhere. The system was rooted in the belief that some criminals’ methods were unique enough to serve as a kind of behavioral DNA — allowing identification based on how a person acted, rather than their genetic make-up. (more…)

Evidence of police dishonesty leads to overturned convictions nationwide

Editor’s note: This story by Nancy West was sponsored by the Fund for Investigative Journalism and hosted by Vermont’s VTDigger. West founded the New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism, which will launch its news website NHinDepth on Sept. 1. 

Debra Jean Milke

Debra Jean Milke

Maybe Debra Jean Milke masterminded the murder of her tow-haired son Christopher in Phoenix just before Christmas 1989 to collect the 4-year-old’s $5,000 life insurance policy.

Or maybe – as Milke has insisted all along – she was just the innocent victim of a corrupt cop with a proven pattern of lying who was out to win a conviction. (more…)

More Medicare Advantage audits in South Florida and elsewhere reveal overcharges

By Fred Schulte, Center for Public Integrity medicarecard

Government audits just released as the result of a lawsuit detail widespread billing errors in private Medicare Advantage health plans going back years, including overpayments of thousands of dollars a year for some patients.

Since 2004, privately run Medicare Advantage plans, an increasingly popular alternative to traditional Medicare, have been paid using a risk score calculated for each patient who joins. Medicare expects to pay higher rates for sicker people and less for those in good health. (more…)

Federal judge tosses out town’s RICO suit against residents seeking public records

By Dan Moffett, The Coastal Star 

Martin O'Boyle, left, and Christopher O'Hare

Martin O’Boyle, left, and Christopher O’Hare

Gulf Stream’s legal offensive against residents Martin O’Boyle and Chris O’Hare suffered a huge setback late last month when a federal judge in West Palm Beach threw out the town’s federal racketeering suit against the two men.

U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Marra said that, while he was sympathetic with the town’s “very difficult situation” because of the hundreds of public records requests O’Boyle and O’Hare had filed, their actions did not meet the legal standards for suing under the RICO statute. (more…)

Collision course: With wary eye on big trucks, bike riders seek safe space on city streets

By Bridget Huber, FairWarning truckcycle

On a July afternoon in New Orleans last year, Philip Geeck was riding his bicycle in a marked bike lane on a busy street. Approaching an intersection, he came up alongside a tractor-trailer truck hauling a tank of chemicals. Geeck, 52, was at the 18-wheeler’s midpoint when suddenly, without signaling, the truck began to turn right, witnesses say.

Victor Pizarro was driving nearby and watched in horror as the scene unfolded. He saw a look of confusion on Geeck’s face as the trailer came toward him. Geeck, an experienced cyclist known to his friends as “Geric,” tried to get away from the truck but couldn’t make it. First his wheel went beneath the semi’s enormous rolling tires, then his foot, then his entire body was dragged under. “It just kind of sucked him in,” Pizarro said in an interview. (more…)

Off-Road industry looks to Congress to put brakes on safety regulation

By Myron Levin, FairWarning 

Photo: Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association

Photo: Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association

Manufacturers of off-road vehicles have mounted fierce resistance to proposed federal rules aimed at reducing rollover crashes that have killed hundreds of riders. After failing to persuade the Consumer Product Safety Commission to shelve the rules, the companies have turned to Congress to run interference.

Powered by an aggressive social media campaign and political donations, a measure moving in the House and Senate would impose a two-year ban on regulating the popular trail machines known as recreational off-highway vehicles, or ROVs. (more…)

Meet the ‘Dark Money’ phantom; Ohio lawyer at nexus of nonprofit network is conservatives’ secret weapon

By Carrie Levine, Center for Public Integrity 

The West Chester, Ohio, office of Langdon Law LLC, led by David Langdon — a little-known but powerful force behind numerous organizations with conservative political agendas. Photo: Carrie Levine/Center for Public Integrity

The West Chester, Ohio, office of Langdon Law LLC, led by David Langdon — a little-known but powerful force behind numerous organizations with conservative political agendas. Photo: Carrie Levine/Center for Public Integrity

WEST CHESTER, Ohio — Just outside Cincinnati, tucked among insurance agencies, hair salons and a yoga studio, is the nexus of one of the nation’s most mysterious networks pouring secret money into elections.

“Langdon Law LLC Political, Election Nonprofit and Constitutional Law,” reads its small sign, which faces the building’s parking lot rather than the street.

On a Tuesday afternoon last month, that parking lot was empty. No one answered the Langdon Law office door. Phone calls went unreturned. Unlike other heavy-hitting political lawyers, David Langdon doesn’t grandstand.

But don’t overlook him. (more…)

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