Our Voice: Thumbs up to additional judge at Benton-Franklin Superior Court

May 13, 2013 

Mid-Columbia legislators — Reps. Terry Nealey, Larry Haler, Brad Klippert, Maureen Walsh, Joe Schmick and Susan Fagan — signed on as sponsors to legislation that adds another judicial position in Benton-Franklin Superior Court.

That solid bloc of Eastern Washington Republicans was joined by westside Democrat Cindy Ryu of Shoreline.

Gov. Jay Inslee signed the bill last week in Kennewick, which unfortunately isn’t the last step required to put the much-needed new judge to work.

Benton and Franklin counties still need to find a way to pay for the judgeship, which might not happen before 2015. The state Legislature also must approve the state’s contribution.

But it’s good to see progress on the issue. The Tri-Cities has been one of the fastest growing areas in the nation during the past decade. A new judge is crucial to addressing the extra burden on the judicial system.

Reward unwarranted

Thumbs down to the former Hanford worker who is seeking a portion of an $18.5 million settlement collected by the U.S. government for timecard fraud that he and others committed.

Carl Schroeder’s attorney argued that under the federal False Claims Act, the convicted felon is entitled to a reward for helping expand the fraud investigation from four people to hundreds.

But it’s a stretch to portray Schroeder as a whistleblower. He only began to provide information to investigators after he already was in trouble for charging American taxpayers for overtime hours that he never worked.

His cooperation was important to the government’s case and we’re glad he did the right thing. But the fact he cheated on his time cards for four years should bar him from collecting a reward.

“It would turn the False Claims Act on its head,” said Daniel Fruchter, a Department of Justice attorney.

We agree.

Betraying the nation

Thumbs down to companies that aggressively market expensive home medical supplies to senior citizens who don’t need them.

Their high-pressure and unethical practices have cost Medicare — and taxpayers — $27 billion during the past four years.

From 2009-12, Medicare paid $43 billion for durable medical equipment such as back braces, sleep apnea monitors and power scooters.

More than 60 percent of those payments may have been improper, according to Senate investigators.

The federal government has been able to recover only about 3 percent of overpayments.

Two companies — Med-Care Diabetic and Medical Supplies Inc., based in Boca Raton, Fla., and U.S. Healthcare Supply, based in Milford, N.J. — have received $168 million in payments from Medicare since 2009, according to a Senate report.

A recent review of Med-Care’s claims showed that in a sample of 590, more than 400 were improper, or 68 percent, for a total of $146,689 in overpayments, Med-Care didn’t respond to a McClatchy reporter’s request for comment.

A sample of U.S. Healthcare’s claims showed an even higher error rate, 92 percent.

More than 5,600 of the 6,100 U.S. Healthcare claims auditors reviewed were improper, the Senate report said.

Defrauding the government is despicable for a lot of reasons.

We’re particularly troubled by the lack of patriotism required to commit such betrayal against the American people.

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