Complaint against clinics owned by Rick Scott sent to federal investigators

— Accusations of Medicare fraud by a chain of urgent care clinics owned in part by Rick Scott have been forwarded to federal investigators, days after they became political fodder in the GOP race for governor.

The Agency for Health Care Administration, which investigates Medicaid fraud, forwarded a complaint compiling accusations made by former Solantic employee Dr. Randy Prokes to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for review and possible investigation, a spokeswoman for the agency confirmed.

The state agency received the complaint on Aug. 6. After finding the accusations didn’t involve state-run Medicaid, AHCA turned the complaint over to federal investigators on Friday.

In July, Prokes e-mailed the same allegations to Attorney General Bill McCollum’s campaign, which claimed it forwarded the complaint to state investigators. McCollum later made public comments about the allegations, drawing a heated response from Scott, as well as Solantic executives.

The allegations have yet to be reviewed by any investigating agency.

Among his charges, Prokes says Solantic charged Medicare patients the full rate for work done by nurse-practitioners, which should be discounted to 85 percent of the rate of a physician visit.

Solantic CEO Karen Bowling denied the allegations in a call with reporters last week, saying Prokes was fired in 2009 for writing a pain-killer prescription outside the clinic, an action prohibited by the company’s operating procedures.

Scott co-founded Solantic in 2001, and he served as its board chairman until January, just before the company merged with Baptist Health. He remains an investor, Bowling said, although she wouldn’t say what stake he has in the company.

Scott was CEO of hospital giant Columbia/HCA when the company came under federal scrutiny for fraudulent Medicare billing practices. Scott left in 1997, and the company soon paid a record $1.7 billion in criminal and civil fines for its practices. Scott was never accused of wrongdoing in the case, and he claims he was unaware of the fraud.

Prokes’ allegations concern a period between 2006 — when he says Solantic began accepting Medicare patients — and 2009, when he was fired.

The doctor describes the clinics as having a high-pressure, business-first atmosphere, with nurses and doctors encouraged to write unnecessary but profitable prescriptions and perform unnecessary tests. He claims Solantic billed patients under his license without his knowledge, and that they relied more heavily on nurse practitioners than allowed by law.

Prokes doesn’t offer documented evidence in the complaint, but he names other nurse practitioners and Solantic employees whom he believes have first-hand knowledge of his claims.

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