Adventist Health Settles Kickbacks Suit Involving White Memorial

May 9, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Adventist Health System has agreed to pay $14.1 million to settle allegations that it illegally compensated physicians who referred patients insured by Medicare and Medicaid to White Memorial Medical Center in Boyle Heights, the Department of Justice announced today.

The whistleblower lawsuit, filed by two doctors in 2008 in a Sacramento federal court, alleged that Adventist Health – owner of the 100 year-old White Memorial Medical Center – violated the Anti-Kickback Act and Stark Statute, which limit monetary arrangements hospitals can have with referring physicians, and the state and federal False Claims Act.

White Memorial spokeswoman Alicia Gonzalez said the settlement agreement avoids a lengthy litigation period “which would have taken our focus away from serving the community.”

She said the settlement “resolves civil false claims allegations relating to financial relationships between WMMC and several doctors that were entered into more than a decade ago,” adding that White Memorial has “cooperated fully with the investigation.”

The government investigated the allegations and then joined the case along with the state in April.

According to the settlement, Adventist Health will pay about $11.5 million to the government, most of which will benefit the Medicare Trust Fund.

The remaining $2.6 million will be paid to the state Department of Health Care Services.

White Memorial has also entered into a five-year Corporate Integrity Agreement with the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to ensure its continued compliance with federal health care benefit program requirements, according to the DOJ.

“Adventist created financial relationships with physicians groups that were an important source for patient referrals,” said plaintiffs’ lawyer Eric R. Havian. “But those types of financial relationships can be unhealthy for patients.”

The case was filed in Sacramento instead of Los Angeles for “strategic reasons,” Havian said.

For 100 years White Memorial has been “committed to delivering high quality care to our patients and keeping our communities healthy,” Gonzalez told EGP.

White Memorial is “pleased the matter is concluded and we will diligently fulfill the terms of the corporate integrity agreement,” she said.

David Vela for L.A. Community College District

May 9, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Eastern Group Publications is endorsing Montebello School Board Member David Vela for Office No. 5.

We have been greatly impressed by Mr. Vela’s willingness to consider innovative ideas to improve the services provided at the Community College level, a practice he employed while a member of MUSD’s Board of Education.

Vela is not a newcomer to education administration and he understands that tight budgets don’t necessarily have to automatically mean cuts to programs and services to students.

We believe that it’s time for the Community College District to get more innovative when it comes to providing services to students. Vela is open to the idea of giving registration priority to students from within a community college district, much as state colleges and K-12 school districts have done.

For many Latinos, and for that matter many other students, starting at the community college level is the most cost effective way to pursue a college education. Going to a school close to home that is easily accessible via public transportation is a much-needed financial bonus.

Vela has also stated that he wants to focus more revenue to help colleges improve their offering of classes that students need to transfer to a four-year university.  These classes are now so limited that many students wind up spending years trying to get the credits needed to move forward.

We agree with Vela that this objective needs to become a priority for every college in the District.

Vela says he will make an effort to visit every campus in the District and to try and become acquainted with the process they use to determine budget priorities, not to micromanage, but to work toward solutions that the board of trustees can help bring about. We are certain he will get some push back from college presidents and staff, but the role of the board of trustees is to set policy and to do so, they must have a firm understanding of what happens at the college level.

We believe there is a need to bring some cohesion from campus to campus so that the needs of all levels of students are met. Therefore we endorse David Vela for L.A. Community College Seat No. 5

How We Pay for CEO ‘Performance’

May 9, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Federal unemployment benefits for 400,000 Californians out of work since last fall recently dropped 18 percent, a $52 cut out of weekly checks that average $297. Similar cuts are rolling out in other states.

In all, long-term unemployed Americans will on average lose nearly $1,000 each by September 30, the date that ends the 2012 federal fiscal year.

The cause of this squeeze: the $85 billion in federal austerity budget reductions.

Who deserves the “credit” for this meat-axe set of cuts, the now infamous “sequester”? Credit the power suits who occupy corporate America’s loftiest perches. These top executives — organized in groups like “Fix the Debt” — have been lobbying relentlessly for deep cuts in federal spending.

Only significant cutbacks in programs near and dear to average Americans, these executives proclaim, can save the nation from debt disaster.

But these same top executives, says a new report I co-authored, are actually running up the federal debt — purely to enrich themselves.

The giant firms these execs manage, my colleagues at the Institute for Policy Studies and the Campaign for America’s Future and I detail in the report, “are exploiting the U.S. tax code.” They’re, in effect, sending taxpayers “the bill for the huge rewards they’re doling out to their top executives.”

Among these top execs: UnitedHealth Group CEO Stephen Hemsley, a “Fix the Debt” endorser who pulled in $199 million between 2009 and 2011.

A convenient federal tax loophole in place since 1993 let UnitedHealth deduct $194 million of that windfall on its corporate tax return. That deduction saved UnitedHealth — and denied the Treasury — $68 million, enough to extend full federal unemployment benefits for the rest of fiscal 2013 to over 65,000 jobless Americans.

The loophole UnitedHealth so lucratively exploited lets companies deduct off their taxes every dollar of “performance pay” they shovel into executive pockets. The 90 corporate giants that belong to “Fix the Debt” shovel quite a bit. Between 2009 and 2011, the deductions they claimed for “performance-based” executive pay added at least $953 million to America’s national debt.

“Performance pay” tax games have their roots back in Bill Clinton’s 1992 drive for the White House. Clinton campaigned against over-the-top executive pay, and Congress, after his inauguration, passed legislation lawmakers hailed as a check on CEO excess.

This legislation allowed corporations to deduct off their taxes no more than $1 million in compensation per executive. But the law had a huge escape hatch. Firms could exempt any “performance-based” pay from the $1 million limit.

The predictable result? An explosion of “performance-based” compensation, mostly with stock options, that kept CEO pay soaring. CEOs had been averaging 201 times worker pay in 1992. The average gap today: 354 times.

The “performance pay” loophole, our report stresses, has served “as a critical subsidy for excessive compensation.”

“The larger the executive payout, the less the corporation pays in taxes,” the report explains. “And average taxpayers wind up footing the bill.”

That injustice would end if legislation Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) has introduced ever became law. Her Income Equity Act would deny corporations tax deductions on any executive compensation that runs over 25 times the pay of a company’s lowest-paid workers or $500,000.

Interestingly, President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act sets a $500,000 cap, effective this year, on how much health insurers like UnitedHealth can deduct for executive compensation.

With this cap now law, our report notes, “taxpayers won’t have to worry so much about their hard-earned dollars going to subsidize fat paychecks for CEOs like Stephen Hemsley of UnitedHealth.”

“But,” we sum up, “taxpayers may want to wonder why — at a time of scarce government resources — their tax dollars are subsidizing fat paychecks at any American corporate giant.”

OtherWords.oeg columnist Sam Pizzigati is an Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow and a co-author of the new report ‘Fix the Debt’.

Our Biggest Terrorist Threat

May 9, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

If you hear someone talking about journalism these days, they’re usually complaining about how the industry is collapsing. Or how terribly biased the media is, one way or the other.

But every time the annual White House Correspondents Dinner rolls around, the word “journalist” suddenly brims with caché.

It’s a popular event, not because journalists are “in,” but because the jokes delivered at the pompous springtime event are great.

This year, for example, President Barack Obama began his speech at the soirée with this joke:

“These days, I look in the mirror, and I’m not the strapping young Muslim Socialist I used to be,” the President said.

Get it? That’s definitely funny, as were many of the other remarks. This year’s dinner was headlined by comedian and talk show host Conan O’Brien and packed with political and Hollywood celebrities.

Do you know what’s not funny? That journalism is in such dire straits.

Weakened by a 50 percent decline in advertising revenue over the past five years, and with a third fewer newsroom employees than 12 years ago, newspapers across the country are going in and out of bankruptcy. They’re looking like bargains to venture capitalists and, worse, partisan operatives.

Even America’s leading newspapers are threatened. The best example of that: widespread reports that Koch Industries may buy the cash-strapped Tribune Company’s newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune.

It makes little sense that a $115 billion energy and manufacturing behemoth that’s the nation’s leading plywood manufacturer, the maker of Dixie Cups, Stainmaster carpet, and other products too numerous to list here would want to enter the unprofitable newspaper business.

But David and Charles Koch, the chief owners of this privately held business empire, are major backers of tea party and libertarian causes and organizations across the country. So it’s hard to believe that the Kochs see this set of bargain-priced newspapers, which includes the Chicago Tribune, Orlando Sentinel, Hartford Courant, and Baltimore Sun, as anything other than another weapon in their robust political arsenal.

What a lousy deal this would be for the rest of us if these notoriously shady billionaires, with no experience in journalism, wind up exerting their control over the reporters who produce the information that’s the lifeblood of democracy.

Aside from his jokes at the White House Correspondents Dinner, Obama spoke seriously about journalism. Maybe his comments were too serious to break through the evening’s overwhelming focus on glamour and humor, but here’s what he said about the media’s role following the Boston Marathon bombing:

“We also saw journalists at their best, especially those who took the time to wade upstream through the torrent to chase down leads and verify facts, and painstakingly put the pieces together to inform and to educate and to tell stories that demanded to be told,” Obama said. “If anyone wonders, for example, whether newspapers are a thing of the past, all you needed to do was to pick up or log on to papers like the Boston Globe. When their communities and the wider world needed them most, they were there making sense of events that might at first blush seem beyond our comprehension. And that’s what great journalism is and that’s what great journalists do.”

If the Kochs do acquire Tribune Media’s newspapers, let’s hope that they don’t turn the Los Angeles Times and the rest of the chain into a joke.

A former media critic for the Rocky Mountain News, Jason Salzman is board chair of Rocky Mountain Media Watch and author of Making the News: A Guide for Activists and Nonprofits. BigMedia.org Distributed via OtherWords.org.


Tax Fairness: We Need A ‘Plan B’

May 9, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Most voters agree that big corporations and the wealthy should start paying their fair share in taxes. But of course big corporations and the wealthy don’t want to do that.  They want to pay less, and they are used to getting their way.  So what do you do?

Some people in Washington think the answer is a “Grand Bargain.”  In a “Grand Bargain,” Republicans agree to stop protecting millionaires from having to pay a single penny more in taxes.  In return, Democrats agree to cut Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare benefits.

That doesn’t sound like a bargain to me.  It sounds more like working people getting ripped off.  Of course big corporations and the wealthy need to start paying their fair share—but cutting benefits is not the answer.

Let’s not forget how we got here.  The richest Americans have been getting richer for decades, while the wages of working people have barely kept up with inflation.  Then tax cuts for Wall Street and the wealthy threw the economy even more out of balance.  Now economic inequality is the highest it has been since the Great Depression and the tax burden has shifted more and more to working people.

Even worse, some of the tax breaks enjoyed by Wall Street are doing real harm to our economy.  Take the tax subsidy for sending jobs overseas, for example.  Right now, corporations can lower their tax bill by moving factories to lower-tax countries.  That’s not right.

Eliminating the tax subsidy for offshoring would raise $583 billion over 10 years.  That’s not chump change.  That’s money that could be used to invest in education and infrastructure, put people back to work, and lay the groundwork for long-term economic prosperity.

Right now, this idea is not taken seriously in Washington because Wall Street doesn’t like it.  But the American people are overwhelmingly in favor.  Surely that should count for something in a democracy.

Asking Wall Street and the wealthy to pay their fair share is not only the fair thing to do, it is also necessary to fix the economy.  It would reduce inequality, which has been acting as a drag on economic growth.  Reinvesting these revenues the right way could also put more buying power in the hands of the middle class, which was once the secret of America’s economic success.

By contrast, the Grand Bargain takes us in the opposite direction.  Cutting Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare benefits would increase inequality and undermine consumer buying power.

Some people tell us we don’t need to worry about any “Grand Bargain.”  They say that Republicans’ refusal to tax millionaires and big corporations means there will never be a “Grand Bargain” that cuts benefits.

But think about what this means.  It means big corporations and the wealthy will never have to pay their fair share of taxes.  Or it means our only hope of getting them to pay their fair share is to cut benefits eventually.

Let’s face it: the “Grand Bargain” is a dead end.

If we want to rebuild our economy, raise wages, put America back to work, and rebuild the middle class, we need to set a different course—sooner rather than later.

Richard Trumka is President of the AFL-CIO. American Forum 4/13


L.A. Sample Ballot Available In Multiple Languages

May 9, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Sample Ballots for Los Angeles’ May 21, 2013 General Municipal and Special Elections are now available in the eight Federally-mandated languages of Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Tagalog, Thai, and Vietnamese a well as in English, according to Los Angeles City Clerk June Lagmay.

The ballots and polling place information can be found on the Election Division’s website at http://clerk.lacity.org/Elections/ under the “Polling Place and Official Sample Ballot Look Up” link. Copies can also be obtained by contacting the Office of the City Clerk – Election Division by May 17, 2013, at (213) 978-0444 or toll-free at (888) 873-1000, between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Suspect On the Run for 8 Years Jailed

May 9, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

A 43-year-old man wanted in connection with the stabbing of his girlfriend in 2004 in Huntington Park is in jail Wednesday after eluding arrest for more than eight years.

Juan Jose Vargas allegedly stabbed his girlfriend several times at the home he shared with her in the 6200 block of Marbrisa Avenue on Nov. 21, 2004, said Lt. Neal Mongan of the Huntington Park Police Department.

Vargas fled before police arrived and the girlfriend survived, Mongan said.

Huntington Park police tried for years to locate and arrest Vargas and even obtained a warrant charging him with the attempted murder of the girlfriend. He may have fled the country, Mongan said.

Police learned about two weeks ago Vargas was being held in Arizona after being detained by the U.S. Border Patrol while trying to enter the country illegally, Mongan said. Border Patrol agents saw there was an outstanding warrant for Vargas for attempted murder.

Huntington Park detectives obtained an extradition order and traveled to Arizona to bring Vargas back. He was booked into the Huntington Park Jail on a warrant with a $1.05 million bail.

The former girlfriend is cooperating with authorities.


Man Injured In Hollenbeck Shooting

May 9, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

A reputed gang member was shot in the left foot while driving his car in Boyle Heights last Friday night.

The shooting occurred shortly after 7 p.m. near the intersection of Marengo and Tremont streets, said Los Angeles Police Department Sgt. Edgar Vega, watch commander at Hollenbeck Station.

“The victim told us he was driving when he heard some gunshots,” Vega said. “His car was hit and he took one round to his left foot.”

The unidentified victim then drove himself to County-USC Medical Center for treatment of the gunshot wound, Vega said. The hospital notified police.

The victim’s wounds were not life-threatening, Vega said.

“We don’t know if the shots were aimed at him,” Vega said. “We haven’t gotten much information from him.”

Police have no description of the shooter, Vega said.

Anyone with information on the shooting was asked to call the LAPD’s Hollenbeck Station at (323) 342-4100.

L.A. City Council Votes Funds For Fire Overtime

May 9, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

The city fire chief today called off the much-debated reassignment of firefighters from fire trucks to ambulances after the City Council voted 12-0 to give him $1.56 million to fund overtime costs

The funding will allow the department to add 11 ambulances without having to take firefighters away from light force fire trucks, city officials said.

Fire Chief Brian Cummings’ reassignment plan was fiercely opposed by the firefighters’ union and a fire chief’s association, sparking a scramble by some council members last week to halt the effort before it was implemented Sunday.

Firefighters who were re-deployed to ambulance duty would be assigned back to fire trucks starting Wednesday, Cummings said.

Councilman Paul Krekorian introduced a motion Tuesday to transfer money from the city’s budget stabilization fund, which has about $60 million. Council President Herb Wesson pushed for the funding, saying it could buy some time until the next mayor is elected May 21.

“We need to give them (the next mayor) breathing room so they can frickin’ get here, so we can figure out how to proceed,” Wesson said.

Cummings said it would cost $13 million to continue funding the ambulances for a full year. He is scheduled to give the council a full report on May 21.

The fire chief said last month that re-deploying firefighters would add 11 more ambulances to better match the department’s needs — since 85 percent of calls to which the agency responds are medical-related — while leaving trucks and engines free to respond to fires.

Cummings insisted today the deployment did not significantly affect the department, despite accusations by members of the United Firefighters of Los Angeles City and the Chief Officers Association that the move would endanger firefighter and public safety.

Councilman Dennis Zine criticized the process, saying the city needs to be better prepared for its funding needs.

“We’re too sophisticated of a city to resort (to) crisis management,” he said.

Cummings, who has been under pressure to reduce fire response times, told the council he had already come to them requesting funds, but “when that money wasn’t forthcoming,” he made his own decision about how to best deploy personnel.

Krekorian, who chairs the Budget & Finance Committee, told City News Service the budget stabilization fund is typically meant to serve as a cushion against economic fluctuations. The Fire Department allocation “was not ideal,” but it was better than dipping into the city’s reserve fund.

Councilman Mitchell Englander called for a more comprehensive restoration of the fire department budget.

“Let’s not forget the history of what happened here,” he said. “We cut their budget because we were told by the former chief they can absorb a $7 million hit based on the data. It was false data. It was wrong.”

Englander said Cummings and the fire commission have since fixed the issues of inaccurate response-time data and reporting.

The budget committee is reviewing Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s proposed budget, which was released last month, and is set to resume daily budget sessions Wednesday.

The council and Villaraigosa must come to an agreement on the budget before July 1, the start of the fiscal year.

Activistas de Boyle Heights Reaccionan al Cierre de Exide

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A pesar del reciente cierre de una planta de baterías de reciclaje en Vernon que ahora plantea una reducción a los niveles peligrosos de emisiones tóxicas, los miembros de un grupo de vigilancia vecinal (Neighborhood Watch) en Boyle Heights están buscando la manera de hacer frente las consecuencias de la instalación sobre la salud de la comunidad, así como el futuro de los ex empleados de la planta.

Residente de Boyle Heights Arturo Herera, izquierda, asiste una reunion del grupo de vigilancia vecinal en la Iglesia Católica Resurrección. (Foto de EGP por Nancy Martinez)

Los miembros del grupo de vigilancia vecinal se reunieron el lunes en la Iglesia Católica Resurrección para discutir el orden reciente del Departamento Estatal de Control de Sustancias Tóxicas (DTSC por sus siglas en inglés) de suspender las operaciones de Exide Technologies, luego que la agencia encontró que la instalación estaba liberando peligrosas emisiones y que el “soporte de metal” de la tubería subterránea tenía una fuga y estaba liberando residuos al suelo.

El grupo de vigilancia vecinal de Resurrección durante años ha estado involucrado en diversos temas ambientales en la zona del Este de Los Ángeles. El grupo, compuesto en su mayoría de los residentes de Boyle Heights, anteriormente han trabajado con las autoridades municipales y agencias de gobierno para expresar sus preocupaciones sobre la contaminación causada por Exide, ubicado en 2700 S. Indiana St., en la ciudad cercana de Vernon.

Durante la reunión del lunes, Frank Villalobos, activista del Este Los Ángeles, informó al grupo que los antiguos empleados de Exide se han comunicado con el pastor de la iglesia, Monseñor John Moretta, culpándolo y al grupo por el cierre de Exide y porque han perdido su empleo a causa de la suspensión indefinida de las instalaciones.

De acuerdo con un comunicado de prensa de Exide, la empresa no sabe cuánto tiempo la suspensión de operaciones durará, pero Villalobos informó a los asistentes en la reunión que se anticipa que será por lo menos un año antes de que la planta vuelva a abrir sus puertas.

El director adjunto del DTSC Jim Marxen dijo a EGP que él tampoco no sabe lo que va a pasar con los empleados que trabajaban en la instalación.

“Aunque el empleo y los salarios son muy importantes para nosotros, nuestra prioridad es mantener a nuestros trabajadores seguros”, dijo Marxen.

Teresa Márquez, de 65 años y miembro del grupo de vigilancia vecinal, dijo que es lamentable que las personas se quedaron sin trabajo, pero considera que deberían estar agradecidos que aún están lo suficiente saludable para buscar empleo en otros lugares.

“¿Qué pasará con todas aquellas personas que serán afectados?”, se preguntó. “¿Cuántas personas están enfermas y aún no lo saben.”

Keven Duran, de 20 años de edad, señaló al grupo que los empleados expuestos a la contaminación en la planta tal vez no muestren los malos efectos sobre su salud por varios años.

“Al largo plazo, estamos salvando sus vidas”, dijo Miguel Alfaro, de 54 años, integrante del grupo.

La agencia de control de contaminación de aire South Coast Air Quality Management District (South Coast AQMD por sus siglas en inglés) previamente había citado a la instalación por exponer a los residentes del Sudeste del Condado de Los Ángeles a las sustancias químicas y contaminantes que pueden producir cáncer. En marzo, Exide fue obligado por el AQMD a notificar a 110.000 residentes cercanos acerca de su exposición al plomo, así como realizar reuniones públicas, que se podrían realizar a finales de este mes, para explicar lo que sucedió a los vecinos y trabajadores de la zona.

Marxen dijo a EGP que desde que la planta cerró los niveles de riesgo por la exposición a los contaminantes se han reducido para los residentes.

“En este punto de la exposición se ha detenido”, dijo Marxen.

El director de Control de Salud y el Ambiental de Vernon Leonard Grossberg dijo a EGP en un comunicado que la emisión de arsénico que se encontró a principios de marzo se corrigió durante un plazo de tres días y ahora están esperando los resultados de nuevas muestras para ver si se necesitan hacer más correcciones.

Él dijo a EGP que todo también esta pendiente de las reparaciones de la tubería.

“Estamos en espera de ver cómo Exide abordará la fuga de pipas que fue descubierto recientemente, y cuánto tiempo se tardará en solucionar”, dijo Grossberg.

Alfaro sugirió en la reunión del lunes que deben buscar en un cierre completo de la planta para evitar más exposición a los residentes y empleados.

“Si no lo hacemos van a encontrar una manera de engañar al sistema”, él dijo.

Aunque los trabajadores que tienen quejas normalmente pueden presentar una queja en contra de la instalación con la División de Seguridad y Salud Ocupacional de California (Cal/OSHA), ahora que la instalación se ha cerrado la agencia ya no tiene jurisdicción. Pero se les insta a los trabajadores a ponerse en contacto con el Departamento de Relaciones Industriales de California si quieren presentar una reclamación.

“Hay maneras que un empleado puede obtener ayuda si cree que hay un problema”, dijo Marxen.

El portavoz de CAL/OSHA Peter Melton dijo a EGP que no se han reportado, ni encontrado condiciones de contaminación a los empleados que hubieran requerido la clausura de la planta.

CAL/OSHA, que garantiza que el público y los trabajadores están a salvo de los riesgos para la seguridad, utiliza los datos del Departamento de Trabajo como una forma de mantener control sobre la seguridad de los trabajadores en una instalación, según Melton. Las únicas quejas que observaban desde el año 2008 eran un problema de “limpieza” y un “riesgo de bajo nivel” en 2011, los cuales no se consideran graves, dijo Melton.

Llamadas de EGP a Exide Technologies no fueron regresadas.

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