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Wisconsin’s latest False Claims Act settlement likely to be one of the last

The Department of Justice and the Wisconsin Attorney General announced Wednesday that they reached an agreement to settle three separate False Claims Act lawsuits against Deaconess Home Health for $3.7 million.

But results like this may soon be rare in Wisconsin. The state repealed its Medicaid whistleblower provision through a secretive, last-minute amendment inserted into its budget in July.

Without the state’s whistleblower law, potential whistleblowers will be less likely to risk their careers and livelihoods to come forward and expose fraud in Wisconsin in the future.

The settlement also resolves criminal allegations against the provider and its owner, Lazarus Bonilla. Deaconess has since shut down and Bonilla will be excluded from participating in any federal healthcare program for 15 years.

According to the Department of Justice, Deaconess provided unnecessary services, instructed nurses to inflate patient assessments to increase Medicaid billings, failed to supervise visits, and hired physicians to sign plans of care for patients without performing a physical examination of those patients.

Deaconess was able to approximately double its Medicaid billings due to these practices.

The settlement reveals the importance of whistleblowers in achieving three important civic objectives: recovering money that has been effectively stolen from the government, shuttering facilities that depend on fraud for their existence, and excluding wrongdoers from the federal healthcare systems.

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