I hate it when I see fraud against the Government, but I hate it even more
when I see fraud against kids. I want to congratulate my friend and fellow
whistleblower lawyer Ross Brooks for some great work he did in a suit
that tried to stop some really callous treatment of schoolchildren –
special education kids, at that.
Ross is a qui tam lawyer, like I am. Ross was representing Dana Ohlmeyer,
a social worker who worked for the NYC Department of Education. Ms. Ohlmeyer
discovered that the City of New York was pretending to offer psychological
counseling services to special ed kids – but it was not really bothering
to offer the counseling.
I don’t know all the details of why these kids needed counseling,
but apparently the need for these particular kids was strong enough that
Medicaid was paying the Department of Education $223 a month to give each
student two psychological counseling sessions. In other words, Medicaid
was paying NYC a pretty steep price of $111.50 per session to counsel
NYC told Medicaid that it was giving these counseling sessions. It stuck
its hand right out and collected all the money it was entitled to get
for giving these counseling sessions. The problem was, NYC’s own
records showed that the students were not actually receiving the counseling
they were supposed to get. The
U.S. Department of Justice press release on the case, which settled yesterday, said New York City claimed it gave
one poor kid counseling for 15 months between 2000 and 2003. The claim
was false for 12 of those 15 months, because the kid got either 1 or 0
sessions during those 12 months.
How many times did NYC do this? Pretty darn many. NYC is paying the U.S.
Government $1,375,000 to settle the claim.
I don’t know the details of the case, because of course the personal
details of the kids are not being released. However, you can imagine all
sorts of reasons why these special ed kids needed the counseling. Medicaid
would not have paid for it in the first place if these kids had not had
a prescribed need for help.
So you have to figure that somewhere in New York City there was a kid who
was dealing with being made fun of because he was “different”
from the other kids. Another kid was trying to process the fact that he
was handicapped – mentally or physically – because he had
been abused by somebody he loved. Some other child had a serious mental
illness and needed to talk about why she acted differently, and learn
how she ought to interact with her peers or her teachers.
Whatever the child’s story, NYC gave the kid nada. Medicaid paid
NYC for the counseling, but NYC just did not provide it.
The United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Loretta
Lynch, made a very good point in the Government’s press release:
“When Medicaid shells out scarce dollars for services that are not
provided, both the students in need of psychological support and the public
fisc are harmed.”
Hats off to social worker Dana Ohlmeyer, who saw what was happening and
stood up for these special education schoolchildren. Congratulations also
to Ross Brooks for his great work in bringing this conduct to the attention
of the Government, and to U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch and the team she
marshalled, including Assistant United States Attorney Michael J. Goldberger
and Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General
Special Agent Elysia Doherty, for the work they did in resolving the case.
I was disappointed to see that Ms. Ohlmeyer received just 15% of the amount
the Government got, because that is the absolute minimum amount set by
Congress. In my view, this case rang the bell in terms of fraud, because
what was happening in NYC was hurting not just the federal government,
but also a very vulnerable population. Surely we ought to do everything
we can to encourage whistleblowers like Ms. Ohlmeyer.