Burgess leads effort to uncover hospital fraud

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U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Lewisville, speaks at the Denton County Republican Party’s annual dinner at the Hyatt Regency DFW Airport on Feb. 1.

A congressional panel is looking into how the government is safeguarding stimulus funds after millions were plowed into a now-defunct Texas hospital chain whose former administrator faces charges of bilking nearly $800,000 of the payout.

Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Lewisville, and a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, sought the inquiry after The Dallas Morning News reported last week that Joe White is accused of falsely attesting to the feds that a hospital met requirements for stimulus money intended to help health facilities computerize medical records.

White is former chief financial officer of the troubled chain owned by Dr. Tariq Mahmood of Cedar Hill. The News reported in August that nearly $18 million was awarded by the federal government to the chain to computerize records. Mahmood’s hospitals have been under investigation by the state and federal government.

“Now that an indictment has been issued involving the program,” Burgess said his committee is seeking “formal answers to the bigger questions.” He said the public needs to know whether the Mahmood case is unique and what internal controls have been pursued to prevent further abuses.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the stimulus payouts under the program could total as much as $20 billion over the next few years.

Employees of Mahmood’s hospitals have said little if any of the federal funds the chain received were used to modernize health records. The indictment said an electronic platform was used only minimally, and the administrator tried to disguise that failure.

A spokesman for the Health and Human Services inspector general said the agency is finalizing its work plan for this year, which includes audits of some stimulus recipients.

The plan also said it will review efforts by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the Health and Human Services agency that distributes the funds, to assess what it’s doing to remedy incorrect payments.

The charges against White marked the third round of fraud indictments involving the chain. Two sets of indictments have been handed down against Mahmood. His charges also involve identity theft and allegations of Medicare and Medicaid billing fraud.

“It’s pretty chilling,” Burgess said of the hospital chain’s problems and ability to access so much government funding. “It seemed reckless from top to bottom.”

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