When I was growing up, there used to be a phrase for a person or a business enterprise that could be trusted to do the right thing. That phrase was “on the level”. In the grand scheme of things, my life experience to date is fairly short, so it is distressing to me that the idea of someone being “on the level” seems to be some kind of quaint notion from yesteryear. Once upon a time, it was fairly easy to distinguish what was legitimate and what was too good to be true.
Unfortunately, in modern times, we are surrounded on a daily basis with scams. From the spam in our e-mail inbox to the “price rollbacks” offered by virtually every retailer, there is very little that I see across the landscape as “on the level”. Even adding something to your meal from the fast food menu for “another dollar” seems like an honest bargain, until you realize two years later that you can’t fit through the doorway without coating your hips and shoulders with margarine.
After a while, what tends to happen is people become numb to the ugliness around them and get consumed by it, rather than feeling like they are spending their lives swimming upstream under the delusion of something wonderful greeting you at the river’s source, even though it never comes into view. Maybe it’s all the psychedelic music I’ve cheerfully listened to in my life, or maybe it’s my love of oceans, lakes and rivers, but I’m here to tell you that I’ll keep swimming for the rest of us.
I read two stories this week that make me believe that the idea of “on the level” is poised for a comeback. The first news came to me this past Wednesday, when the latest wide-ranging HEAT teams busts were announced in a joint statement by the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services. In all, 107 people at various levels of decision making in the health care chain were charged with false billing to the Medicare program totalling $452 million. Fifty-nine of those charged were from (say it with me!) South Florida, with the majority of the remainder coming from the high fraud areas of Baton Rouge, Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago and Detroit. We even had one defendant from Alabama, so let me take this opportunity to welcome those in the Yellowhammer State (yes, I had to look that up) to the world of Medicare Fraud arrests.
In addition to the “perp walks” in many cities, Medicare suspended payments to 52 providers based on aberrant billing patterns and what they called “credible allegations of fraud”. I find this to be the most interesting announcement by the team, as this indicates to me that the predictive modeling technology implemented by CMS last July is beginning to prove it’s worth, albeit on a small scale thus far. There is still a long way to go to expunge the Medicare program of fraud (as indicated by this insightful comment from my blog posting this past Wednesday that begs for a larger audience), but anytime providers of ill repute are led away in handcuffs, my soul does a Daffy Duck “Woo Hoo” Dance.
The other bit of news from the true crime files came in this morning, and has a connection to one of the many places I’ve lived in my life. In 2010, a pharmaceutical distribution center for drug giant Eli Lilly located in Enfield, Connecticut (past home base number 2 of 12) was robbed of over $70 million of Prozac and Zyprexa in a sophisticated heist. Thanks to a long investigation by local and federal authorities, 12 arrests were made in Florida this week against individuals who ran a cargo heist ring up and down the East Coast. In addition to the Eli Lilly robbery, the same ring was involved in cargo thefts at truck stops in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Tennessee, as well as a similar heist at a GlaxoSmithKline warehouse in Virginia. A statement from Eli Lilly indicated that the remaining drugs recovered as part of the arrests will eventually be destroyed.
While two news releases will not completely restore the idea of entities being “on the level”, it is to the benefit of those in the medical field who are working hard to do the right thing that those players acting in bad faith are removed from the field. It continues to be a swim upstream, but for a small window of time, the rocks we encountered on this part of our journey were made of Styrofoam.