Consultants to Monitor Settlement OKd


Ventura County supervisors unanimously approved two consulting contracts Tuesday that health officials say are needed to comply with the settlement terms of a federal lawsuit over improper Medicare billing practices.

But the board postponed a decision on who will ultimately have to pay the $1-million cost of the contracts and other related fees.

Health Care Agency Director Pierre Durand, who made the request to hire the consultants, suggested that supervisors use money from the general fund to cover the costs. He said his agency should not be held financially responsible for meeting the federal requirements, which were triggered by a series of audits resulting from the failed merger last year of the county’s mental health and social service agencies.


But board members recently pledged not to approve any new expenditures until they get a handle on a projected $5-million county deficit, caused largely by the Medicare settlement and other related costs. For this reason, they told Durand, they could not guarantee him any help at this time.

“It’s incumbent upon us to hold the line . . . until we have a complete picture,” Supervisor Judy Mikels said.

Durand has said his agency would not be able to shoulder the $1-million tab from his existing budget without affecting the quality of health care services it provides.

Supervisors told Durand that they were sympathetic to his concerns and would continue to review the matter. They promised to look at other funding sources when county staff meets next month to review the budget.

Also Tuesday, supervisors delayed until January the transfer of $340,100 worth of vacation and sick time related to the move of the mental health department’s Inpatient Psychiatric Unit to Ventura County Medical Center. The recent reorganization was part of the federal lawsuit settlement.

Of the two contracts approved Tuesday, one is with the firm of Deloitte & Touche, which will be responsible for training 2,000 county employees on proper billing practices.


The second is with Ernst & Young, which will conduct annual audits to ensure that the county is complying with the terms of the settlement.

Supervisor Kathy Long said she was concerned about the latter contract because of news reports last week that Ernst & Young would have to pay $335 million to Cendant Corp. to settle charges of inaccurate audits.

But Durand and his deputy, Michael Powers, said Ernst & Young is a well-respected firm and noted that the division that would be handling Ventura County’s audit was composed of a different and specialized staff.

In July, the county agreed to pay $15.3 million to settle a federal lawsuit stemming from years of faulty Medicare billing practices. The county agreed to pay the money over a five-year period.

Penalties and payouts stemming from the botched reorganization have cost the county $11 million so far this fiscal year and are the main cause of the county’s current financial problems, officials said.