By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Eighteen months ago, the office of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi demanded Broward Health pay more than $5.3 million to settle state Medicaid fraud claims uncovered during a federal whistleblower probe that cost Broward Health $69.5 million.
On Monday, Broward Health’s commissioners gleefully approved paying instead $1.5 million to settle with the state.
“Obviously we would have preferred zero, but we need to get this behind us and have it over done,” said Commissioner Linda M. Robison, the board’s secretary/treasurer.
Commission Chairman Rocky Rodriguez called the settlement payout “a drop in the bucket.”
No explanation was given to explain the deep discount that Broward Health got.
Florida Bulldog reported the state’s claim on Broward Health in March 2106 after Bondi’s office released a copy of the state’s demand letter in response to a public-records request.
The precise amount originally sought was $5,325,671, which Assistant Attorney General Jill Bennett informed Broward Health’s lawyers “represents damages recoverable under the Florida False Claims Act.
“This settlement demand amount is based upon (the) North Broward Hospital District having entered into financial relationships with physicians that violated the Physician Self-Referral Law, the Florida Anti-Kickback Statute, Florida statutes and the Florida False Claims Act,” Bennett’s letter said.
The North Broward Hospital District is Broward Health’s legal name.
Scheming to defraud
The letter accused Broward Health of scheming to defraud Medicaid with nine of its doctors who had been given improper and illegal contracts. The various contracts were in force for between six and 14 years. The doctors named in the letter were George Caldwell, Michael Chizner, Violeta McCormack, Hector Rodriguez-Cortes, Rudolph Roskos, John Rozanski, Ashok Sharma, Erol Yoldas and Shazia Zafar.
Coincidentally, commissioners on Monday renewed for two years Broward Health’s employment agreement with Dr. Rodriguez-Cortes. Rodriguez-Cortes is the Medical Director for pediatric hematology oncology services at the Salah Foundation Children’s Hospital at Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale.
The state’s allegations mirrored the federal Medicare/Medicaid fraud case against Broward Health.
Broward Health General Counsel Lynn Barrett announced the settlement at Broward Health’s regular board meeting. “We thought this is a very, very good settlement,” she told commissioners while recommending they approve the deal.
Negotiations that led the state to significantly discount its own claim also put an end to concern that the state might go through with its threat to sue in Leon County Court and seek treble damages and civil penalties of not more than $11,000 for each false claim that Broward Health submitted.
Florida and the federal government share the cost of the state’s Medicaid program, which provides medical coverage to low-income individuals and families.