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County to Lobby for Relief on Medicare Fine

Finances: Supervisors and CAO will go to D.C. next week for talks on the penalty over improper billing.


County officials are planning another trip to Washington, where they will lobby federal officials to reduce or forgive a $15.3-million fine the county owes over improper Medicare billing.

All five members of the Board of Supervisors plan to make the trip next Tuesday through Thursday, along with Chief Administrative Officer Harry Hufford. Supervisors will divide into groups of two for meetings with local congressional representatives and U.S. senators to negotiate and plan a strategy in private without violating open meeting laws, board Chairwoman Kathy Long said.

The board also plans to meet with White House advisors.

"This is really following up on a lot of groundwork that's been done over the last several months," Long said.

Hufford made a similar trip in February with Health Care Agency Director Pierre Durand and county lawyers.

Supervisors hope to get relief from a fine imposed last summer. They have already made one $3.1-million payment and must make four more annual payments, unless some relief is granted.

Last year they used a portion of the proceeds from a $260-million tobacco settlement to pay the first installment, but are now under pressure to spend the tobacco settlement dollars on health care programs.

Long said supervisors hope to get relief in one of three ways: an agreement by federal Health Care Financing Administration officials to waive the remainder of the penalty, an appropriation of federal money to pay off the fine, or legislation that would relieve them of some or all of the remainder of the fine.

"Whatever it takes," Long said.

The settlement was reached after federal officials discovered the county had systematically overbilled Medicare for mental health services during the 1990s. County officials have said the overbilling was not intentional and was a result of misunderstanding complicated rules.

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