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Courts / Law

Court: No Restitution for Wellcare

WellCare_logo.jpg
Tampa Tribune

A federal appeals court Friday rejected arguments by WellCare Health Plans that the Tampa-based HMO should receive restitution from former executives who were convicted in a major Medicaid fraud case.

WellCare contended it was a victim of crimes committed by former Chief Executive Officer Todd Farha, former Chief Financial Officer Paul Behrens and former Vice President William Kale.

WellCare said in court documents that it "suffered hundreds of millions of dollars in losses," including restating financial statements and defending against costly litigation, as part of a case that started in 2007 with FBI agents raiding company headquarters.

But the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday agreed with a lower-court judge that WellCare was not entitled to seek restitution as a victim. In part, the appeals court pointed to an earlier deferred-prosecution agreement in which it said the company admitted to being a co-conspirator.

"In short, WellCare is responsible for the acts of its top-level executives, and the company admitted to being a co-conspirator,'' the opinion said. "It cannot now deny those undisputed facts. By asking for restitution from its top-level executives, WellCare seeks restitution for its own conduct -- something it cannot do."

Farha, Behrens and Kale were sentenced last month to federal prison for their roles in the wrongdoing.

Child Welfare, Juvenile Sentencing Bills Sent To Scott

The Legislature on Friday sent to Gov. Rick Scott a far-reaching bill (SB 1666) designed to revamp Florida’s child welfare system, which has been under legislative scrutiny after a series of child deaths and related media reports. The bill passed the House and Senate unanimously during the spring legislative session.

The measure would create rapid-response teams to conduct immediate investigations of child deaths, establish the Florida Institute for Child Welfare to conduct policy research and create the position of assistant secretary for child welfare at the Department of Children and Families.

Additionally, it would use tuition waivers and loan-forgiveness programs to help child-protection workers earn social-work degrees. It would keep siblings together and medically fragile children in their homes whenever possible.

Also Friday, lawmakers sent another high-profile bill (HB 7035) to Scott that would revamp sentencing for juveniles who are convicted of murder or other serious felonies. The bill stems from U.S. Supreme Court rulings in 2010 and 2012 that put restrictions on life sentences for juveniles.

The bill calls, in part, for judicial hearings and sentencing standards that would vary depending on the nature of the crimes. Scott has until June 28 to sign, veto or let the bills become law without his signature.

Report: Hospitals, Patients Have Faced Drug-Resistant Germs

Florida patients during the past six years have been infected by germs that are resistant to virtually all antibiotics, but state health officials allowed hospitals to handle the problem discreetly without alerting the public, The Palm Beach Post reported Friday.

An investigation by the newspaper found that 12 outbreaks statewide have affected at least 490 people, though it's unknown how many of the patients have died. The Florida Department of Health first learned in 2008 that a drug-resistant germ had spread to 10 people in Broward County during a single month, with seven of the people at a long-term care hospital, the newspaper reported.