How Medicare Advantage plans code for cash; HHS report exposes overbilling

By Fred Schulte, Center for Public Integrity Background concept wordcloud illustration of medicare glowing light

A new federal study shows that many Medicare Advantage health plans routinely overbill the government for treating elderly patients — and have gotten away with doing it for years.

Analyzing government data never before made public, Department of Health and Human Services researchers found that many plans exaggerate how sick their patients are and how much they cost to treat. Medicare expects to pay the privately run plans — an alternative to traditional Medicare — some $160 billion this year. (more…)

Meet the online tracking device that’s virtually impossible to block

By Julia Angwin, ProPublica fingerprint.jpg

A new, extremely persistent type of online tracking is shadowing visitors to thousands of top websites, from WhiteHouse.gov to YouPorn.com.

First documented in a forthcoming paper by researchers at Princeton University and KU Leuven University in Belgium, this type of tracking, called canvas fingerprinting, works by instructing the visitor’s Web browser to draw a hidden image. Because each computer draws the image slightly differently, the images can be used to assign each user’s device a number that uniquely identifies it. (more…)

Even low doses of arsenic trigger cancer in mice, study finds

By David Heath, Center for Public Integrity 

The low doses of arsenic similar to what many Americans consume in their drinking water are enough to develop tumors in mice, a new NIH study has found.

The low doses of arsenic similar to what many Americans consume in their drinking water are enough to develop tumors in mice, a new NIH study has found.

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health fed mice very low doses of arsenic and were surprised to find that many of them developed lung cancer, according to a study just published.

What made the results so surprising was that in previous studies, mice were fed extremely high doses of arsenic before they developed excess tumors. In the new study, mice fed lower doses of arsenic were more likely to develop tumors. The lowest dose is similar to amounts some people with private wells in the United States drink. (more…)

As more imported foods reach the dinner table, holes remain in FDA safety net

 By Rick Schmitt, FairWarning 

Overwhelmed by a rising tide of imported foods, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is able to inspect a tiny fraction of shipments due to budget constraints.

Overwhelmed by a rising tide of imported foods, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is able to inspect a tiny fraction of shipments due to budget constraints.

In April 2012, a team of inspectors from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration investigated a seafood company in southern India that had been exporting tons of frozen yellow fin tuna to the United States. What they found was not appetizing: water tanks rife with microbiological contamination, rusty carving knives, peeling paint above the work area, unsanitary bathrooms and an ice machine covered with insects and “apparent bird feces,” according to the report.

The FDA issued an “import alert” that barred Moon Fishery India Pvt. Ltd. from shipping fish to the United States. But the damage to public health had been done. By the time FDA got around to inspecting the plant, a salmonella outbreak was erupting around the country. Ultimately, 425 people in 28 states and the District of Columbia were sickened, with victims ranging from babies to octogenarians. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 55 people were hospitalized. (more…)

Supreme Court justices earn quarter-million on the side; Read their disclosure reports

By Reity O’Brien, Center for Public Integrity supremes

Between legalizing gay marriage and sparring over campaign finance limits, the U.S. Supreme Court kept busy — and made money — outside the marbled halls of One First Street last year.

All but one of the nine high court justices earned teaching income or book royalties in 2013, hauling in a quarter of a million dollars for their work shaping young legal minds in the classroom or through the written word. (more…)

Billions in Medicare Advantage overcharges likely gone for good

By Fred Schulte, Center for Public Integrity doctorsmoney

Four years ago, Medicare auditors came to an alarming conclusion: the federal government shouldn’t have paid a half-dozen insurance plans hundreds of millions of dollars to treat seniors in especially poor health.

The findings signaled that billing errors could be deeply rooted within private Medicare Advantage plans — which contract with the federal government to care for nearly 16 million elderly Americans — and that these abuses could be wasting taxpayer dollars at a ferocious clip. (more…)

Fear stifles complaints of wage abuse

By Myron Levin, Stuart Silverstein and Lilly Fowler, FairWarning 

Fast-food workers in Seattle accused employers of wage theft last year.

Fast-food workers in Seattle accused employers of wage theft last year.

Karim Ameri allegedly decided to play hardball after learning that his Los Angeles recycling business was under investigation for failing to pay the minimum wage or overtime to workers putting in 60-hour weeks.

Court records say Ameri pressured employees of Recycling Innovations, a string of bottle-and-can redemption centers, to lie to federal officials about his company’s pay practices. He allegedly threatened to fire workers or report them to immigration authorities if they cooperated with U.S. Labor Department investigators. (more…)

Miami Marlins to pay clubhouse workers back wages to settle U.S. labor investigation

By Myron Levin and Stuart Silverstein, FairWarning 

First Pitch at Marlins Park, April 4, 2012 Photo: Roberto Coquis, Creative Commons

First Pitch at Marlins Park, April 4, 2012 Photo: Roberto Coquis, Creative Commons

The Miami Marlins and the San Francisco Giants have agreed to settle Labor Department investigations into possible violations of U.S. wage standards by agreeing to give back wages to underpaid workers.

Officials with the department’s Wage and Hour Division confirmed that the Baltimore Orioles and the Oakland A’s have also come under scrutiny in the continuing investigation into the pay practices of Major League Baseball. (more…)

Feds in South Florida investigating allegations Humana overcharged Medicare Advantage

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 multiple federal investigations into allegations that it overbilled the government for treating elderly patients enrolled in its Medicare Advantage plans, court records reveal.

The status of the investigations is not clear, but they apparently involve several branches of the Justice Department. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami wrote in a court document filed in March that officials expect that at least one of the probes will be completed and the findings made public “in the next few months.” (more…)

In support of Gov. Askew’s legacy of open government, ex-aide challenges Florida’s blind trust law at Supreme Court

 By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org 

Governor Reubin Askew holds a press conference in 1971 Photo: State Archives of Florid

Governor Reubin Askew holds a press conference in 1971 Photo: State Archives of Florid

The former chief of staff for the late Gov. Reubin Askew filed an emergency petition at the Florida Supreme Court Wednesday challenging the legality of the state’s 2013 blind trust law.

The 27-page petition by James Apthorp urged the court to prohibit the use of blind trusts by public officials to avoid full financial disclosure and invalidate two opinions by the Commission on Ethics that held blind trusts are an acceptable form of disclosure. (more…)

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