Kickback case moved to West Virginia
Three months ago, the United States Department of Justice joined a lawsuit against Wheeling Hospital alleging that the hospital had improperly paid millions of dollars in kickbacks to doctors. As Health Leaders wrote at the time:
Federal prosecutors have taken up a whistleblower lawsuit alleging that a West Virginia hospital, its management company, and CEO paid illegal kickbacks to physicians for patient referrals.
The Department of Justice alleges that nonprofit Wheeling Hospital Inc., violated the Stark Law and Anti-Kickback Statute, and that those violations were caused by R & V Associates Ltd., Wheeling's contracted management consultant, and Wheeling CEO Ronald Violi, who prosecutors allege had "dictatorial control" of the compensation agreements.
The only recent news that I could find is that the case will be heard in West Virginia rather than in Pennsylvania at Wheeling Hospital’s request.
The local hospital has made news in other ways, however.
Kaiser Health News features Wheeling Hospital in a widely circulated article about doctor kickbacks
Earlier this month, Kaiser Health News published an article which was republished by several sources. The article
Hospitals Accused Of Paying Doctors Large Kickbacks In Quest For Patients
used the Wheeling Hospital case to explain the process of how hospitals were using kickbacks to increase the number of their patients. As its subheading explains:
Hospitals are eager to get particular specialists on staff because they bring in business that can be highly profitable. But those efforts, if they involve unusually high salaries or other enticements, can violate federal anti-kickback laws.
Wheeling Hospital does not fare well in the Kaiser article. That contrasts with our local media, especially Ogden newspapers, which have done their best to give Wheeling Hospital lots of positive publicity. (I wrote most recently wrote about it here.) Additionally, in what might be of special interest to local readers, the Kaiser article notes Wheeling Hospital’s poor showing in Medicare’s most recent rating:
Wheeling’s quality of care has not excelled commensurately, however, according to Hospital Compare, Medicare’s consumer website. Patients with heart failure or pneumonia are more likely to die than at most hospitals. In April, Medicare awarded Wheeling Hospital its lowest rating, one star, for overall quality.
The poor rating was new to me and so I checked: the article is correct -- Wheeling Hospital received only one star (out of five). (Here is how Medicare arrived at their rating. By the way, here are Hospital Compare’s ratings for all hospitals within 50 miles of Wheeling.)
One star for a local hospital? Why isn’t this news? Wouldn’t area residents want to know the Medicare ratings for local hospitals? Where is our local media?
The phantom energy deal between West Virginia and China
I last wrote about the proposed $84 billion China/West Virginia energy deal in January. The original deal (actually, it was a “memorandum of understanding”) was put together between President Trump and the Chinese back in November 2017. At that time, optimism was widespread among state politicians and state media. For example, Governor Justice expected “shovels in the ground” by the end of 2018 and Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher told us:
This time next year, you will see construction activity taking place.
This was very early in the process and even though some outside media questioned the agreement, most West Virginia media (including Ogden), acted like cheerleaders rather than reporters.* Nothing happened in 2018 and by January of this year, even Governor Justice seemed resigned to the possibility that it would be 2020 before work would begin.
Last week, cable news network CNBC investigated the current state of the China-West Virginia deal and wrote about it here:
CNBC interviewed dozens of local executives, state officials and federal lawmakers about where the deal stands. What emerges is a picture of a proposal hastily assembled for the deadline of Trump’s trip to China without assessments of national security or geopolitical risks – and a cautionary tale as the U.S. tries to hold China to its promises at the federal level.
Eighteen months after the deal was announced with much fanfare, China Energy Investment Corp. has spent no money in West Virginia’s energy projects, Justice tells CNBC. Thrasher – one of three signatories to the deal – points to one reason: “It’s not an enforceable document where we can make them spend their money.”
“Not enforceable”? No kidding. Didn't we know that?
Finally, WV Metro News reported on Friday that:
A West Virginia delegation that included the current Commerce Secretary, Ed Gaunch, returned to China earlier this month and described optimism.
Yes, it springs eternal.
*Note – When the West Virginia-China agreement was announced, there were media doubters. On the national level, both the Washington Post and the Associated Press questioned whether the deal would ever go through. Internationally, the South China Morning Post called it "fake news at best" and on the state level, Ken Ward Jr. at the Charleston Gazette-Mail asked a number of important questions that never got answered. And while the front-page coverage of local Ogden papers was very optimistic, it should also be noted that the local editor, Mike Myer, did express some doubt in one of his columns. (For examples, see here and here.)