Sunday, June 12, 2016

UK pays big to settle a health-care debacle but keeps almost all details under wraps; Herald-Leader says trustees should worry

"The University of Kentucky has spent more than $5 million in the last year to fix federal billing issues involving a Hazard cardiology practice it acquired three years ago, but UK officials have declined to provide documents detailing problems that led to the payments," including an audit of the Appalachian Heart Center that UK calls "preliminary" though the issue has been resolved, Linda Blackford reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Most of the money went to Medicare and Medicaid, but $1 million went to a Washington lawyer whose billing records the university largely refused to release, citing attorney-client privilege. The university's trustees were told about the matter at a dinner meeting, which the Herald-Leader said it didn't cover because the agenda for the meeting did not include the matter. UK says no minutes were taken at the meeting, normally a social event that precedes formal meetings the next day.

The Herald-Leader said it would file an appeal with the attorney general, whose decisions in open-records and open-meetings matters have the force of law unless a court rules to the contrary. “We have strong concerns about the overall lack of transparency by the university in this case,” Editor Peter Baniak said. “Records about the issues involving this clinic should be public, as should the information presented and discussion that took place in an open meeting of the board of trustees.”

In an editorial, the newspaper attacked UK officials' secrecy about the case and other health-care issues, such as appealing an AG's decision that that the Kentucky Medical Services Foundation isn't a public agency. "Their imaginative legal arguments and bizarrely incomplete responses to requests for information by the Office of the Attorney General, this newspaper and a private individual should embarrass and trouble the trustees," it said, noting that a UK official said the university paid back "more than what was required."

"Who pays an attorney $1 million to settle a dispute by paying more than was owed?" the editorial asked. "If this were a one-off we might think that UK HealthCare and KMSF, which handles billing for UK physicians, are just muddling around to avoid admitting their deal went bad. But it’s only the latest in a series of stories that indicate a pattern of secretiveness in UK’s vast health-care empire."

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