How Medicare Advantage investors made billions off loose government lips

By Fred Schulte, Center for Public Integrity medicarecard

The third of February 2011 was mostly a ho-hum day on Wall Street­ — but not for companies offering Medicare Advantage plans. Several of those firms hit the jackpot, tacking on billions of dollars in new value after federal officials signaled they might go easy on health plans suspected of overcharging the government.

The stocks took off after the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services advised the health plans in a memo that it was rethinking a move to ratchet up audits of the privately run Medicare plans. Some of these plans are run by publicly traded insurance companies whose fortunes can rise and fall significantly upon news of a change in Medicare policy. (more…)

Talc-Ovarian cancer link sparks growing legal battle

By Myron Levin, FairWarning 

Deane Berg, who filed a first-of-its kind lawsuit blaming her ovarian cancer on Johnson & Johnson talc powders

Deane Berg, who filed a first-of-its kind lawsuit blaming her ovarian cancer on Johnson & Johnson talc powders

Deane Berg’s doctor called her in the day after Christmas, 2006, to give her the crushing news. She’d had her ovaries removed, the pathology results were back, and they could not have been much worse.  Berg had stage III ovarian cancer, and her prognosis was poor.

Despite her 25 years as a physician’s assistant, Berg, then 49, knew next to nothing about ovarian cancer. Grappling with the “why me?” question, she studied the risk factors, finding just one that could apply: regular use of talcum powder for feminine hygiene.

Talc powder might be a cause ovarian cancer–who knew? It turned out that some people did. (more…)

Another Startling Verdict for Forensic Science

By Ryan Gabrielson, ProPublica hairevidence

With the introduction of DNA analysis three decades ago, criminal investigations and prosecutions gained a powerful tool to link suspects to crimes through biological evidence. This field has also exposed scores of wrongful convictions, and raised serious questions about the forensic science used in building cases.

This week, The Washington Post reported the first results from a sweeping study of the FBI forensic hair comparison unit, finding that 26 of 28 examiners in the unit gave flawed testimony in more than 200 cases during the 1980s and 1990s. Examiners overstated the accuracy of their analysis in ways that aided prosecutors. (more…)

Health data breaches sow confusion, frustration

By Charles Ornstein, ProPublica anthemhack

As the privacy officer for The Advisory Board Co., Rebecca Fayed knows a thing or two about privacy and what can happen when it’s violated.

But when Fayed received a letter telling her that she, like nearly 80 million others, was the victim of a hacking attack on health insurer Anthem Inc., she couldn’t figure out why. Anthem wasn’t her insurance provider. (more…)

Unicorns, the Tooth Fairy and 54.5 MPG

By Stuart Silverstein, Fair Warning gaspump

The Obama Administration has repeatedly trumpeted its plan to boost the average fuel economy of new cars and light trucks to 54.5 miles per gallon by the 2025 model year.

In a 2011 White House news release announcing an agreement with automakers to reach the goal, President Obama called it the “the single most important step we’ve ever taken as a nation to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.” By 2025, he said, average fuel economy “will nearly double to almost 55 miles per gallon.” (more…)

America remains top arms seller to the world

By Julia Harte, Center for Public Integrity patriot

The United States remains the largest exporter of weaponry to the world, with Russia hanging onto second place and China grabbing ahold of third, according to the latest annual survey by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which ranks sales of weapons based on their value, quantity, and function.

The market they are supplying is expanding. Arms sales over the past five years are 16 percent higher than they were from 2005 to 2009, SIPRI reported, signaling growing demand for major weapons. (more…)

How much is your arm worth? Depends on where you work

By Michael Grabell, ProPublica, and Howard Berkes, NPR

Top: Jeremy Lewis smokes a cigarette outside of his parents’ home in Albertville, Alabama, less than 50 miles from the Georgia state line. If he had been injured in Georgia he would have been entitled to far more than the $45,000 he received under Alabama’s workers’ comp system. Photo: Dustin Chambers for ProPublica

Top: Jeremy Lewis smokes a cigarette outside of his parents’ home in Albertville, Alabama, less than 50 miles from the Georgia state line. If he had been injured in Georgia he would have been entitled to far more than the $45,000 he received under Alabama’s workers’ comp system. Photo: Dustin Chambers for ProPublica

At the time of their accidents, Jeremy Lewis was 27, Josh Potter 25.

The men lived within 75 miles of each other. Both were married with two children about the same age. Both even had tattoos of their children’s names.

Their injuries, suffered on the job at Southern industrial plants, were remarkably similar, too. Each man lost a portion of his left arm in a machinery accident. (more…)

The tragic story of Josh Stein: A sick tortoise, an urge to help and a fatal trip through Broward’s Felony Mental Health Court

Josh Stein, a mentally troubled man of 38, died of an apparent accidental drug overdose the day after Christmas.  Broward’s elected public defender, Howard Finkelstein, says Stein’s death can be traced to anxiety and stress caused by “cattle car justice” meted out in Broward’s Felony Mental Health Court. In a letter last week to Chief Judge Peter Weinstein, Finkelstein chronicled Stein’s journey through the system after his burglary arrest in July 2013 for an ill advised taking, without permission, of a sickly red-footed tortoise that Stein wanted to nurse back to health. Finkelstein, who helped establish the specialized court to protect the mentally disabled in 2003, now says Felony Mental Health Court is a failure that must be shut down. 

Josh Stein

Josh Stein

Dear Chief Judge Weinstein,

Josh Stein is dead. A 38-year-old man has been forever silenced. His mother and father will never again see his smile, hear his laugh or hold and hug him. Their only son is lost forever. Now they are left with only pictures and memories.

He died a victim of Broward County’s Felony Mental Health Court’s callous, misguided treatment of the mentally ill. (more…)

Humana facing new federal scrutiny over private Medicare plans

By Fred Schulte, Center for Public Integrity 

The entrance to Humana headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky

The entrance to Humana headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky

Giant health insurer Humana, Inc. faces new scrutiny from the Justice Department over allegations it has overcharged the government by claiming some elderly patients enrolled in its popular Medicare plans are sicker than they actually are.

The Louisville, Kentucky-based company disclosed the Justice Department’s recent civil “information request” in an annual report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Feb. 18. The company noted that it is cooperating with authorities. (more…)

Town’s class action RICO lawsuit says Florida public records law misused to extort settlements

By Dan Moffett, The Coastal Star 

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

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

Town of Gulf Stream in South Palm Beach County has rolled out the heavy artillery in its legal war against residents Martin O’Boyle and Christopher O’Hare, filing a class action RICO lawsuit Feb. 12 in U.S. District Court.

The 48-page federal complaint alleges that the two men engaged in a conspiracy to exploit the state’s public record laws and extort settlements from the town and other municipalities and organizations around the state. (more…)

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