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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA / A news summary | The Regional

Mistakes Found to Cost County $25.5 Million

March 28, 2000

VENTURA COUNTY — The combined cost of Ventura County's failed mental health merger and years of improper Medicare billing continues to rise, now approaching $25.5 million, according to a county report.

A detailed breakdown of the county's cumulative costs were outlined in an inner-office report sent by Health Care Agency Director Pierre Durand to Chief Administrative Officer Harry Hufford last week. The bulk of these costs include the $15.3 million in federal fines levied against the county for improper billing as well as payments to a battery of health care consultants and attorneys.

But Durand's March 21 report also reveals for the first time that the initial $300,000 in penalties incurred in the botched 1998 merger of the county's mental health and social service agencies has increased to more than $1 million. The county manager's office puts the total at $1.3 million.

And the county's costs continue to mount. Of the total amount accumulated so far, about $1.48 million is ongoing costs for lawyers and consultants hired to ensure that the county is complying with all state and federal billing regulations.

In addition, Durand's report shows that the county has so far spent $100,000 for lawyers in connection with an ongoing FBI criminal investigation into the county's past Medicare billing practices. Federal investigators are trying to determine whether county officials deliberately defrauded the federal government by billing at higher physician rates in cases in which the patients actually were seen by social workers, nurses and psychologists.

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