Even the mighty are under the microscope.
A Mayo Clinic official confirmed to MODERN HEALTHCARE last week that federal investigators in Phoenix are reviewing five years' worth of billing records from the three Mayo clinics in Rochester, Minn.; Jacksonville, Fla.; and Scottsdale, Ariz.
The U.S. attorney's office in Phoenix has requested "all billing" records from 1992 to 1997, Mayo spokesman John La Forgia said.
La Forgia said that includes Medicare, Medicaid, the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Uniformed Services, and private-pay billing.
The initial request for records, La Forgia said, came last June, and since then Mayo has been cooperating with federal prosecutors and turning over records.
"It's a continuing dialogue," he said.
La Forgia characterized the volume of records requested as "substantial."
The billing inquiry concerns physician services at the three outpatient clinics, which combined have about 1,400 doctors. The lion's share of those physicians-more than 1,000-are at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Collectively, the three clinics had about 411,000 patients last year.
The Jacksonville clinic, opened in 1986, was the first extension of the Mayo Clinic outside its headquarters in Rochester. The second satellite clinic, Mayo Clinic Scottsdale, was opened in 1987.
La Forgia said the billing inquiry doesn't involve hospitals affiliated with the clinics that Mayo owns.
La Forgia said Mayo doesn't know what the government's specific focus is.
"There have been absolutely no allegations or accusations made against Mayo," he said.
An assistant U.S. attorney in the Phoenix office declined comment.
La Forgia said the inquiry may be part of "the routine sort of overlook" the government is giving to billing across the country.
Federal prosecutors and other government agencies are involved in a widespread campaign aimed at ferreting out fraud and abuse in the healthcare industry. By the time they're finished, some of these investigations will have involved almost every hospital in the country and countless numbers of providers, legal experts say.
"Just because they're looking does not mean that there has been something bad that has happened," said attorney Scott Becker, a partner in the Chicago law firm Ross & Hardies.
Becker, who's not involved in the Mayo investigation, commented at the request of MODERN HEALTHCARE. He said the government may be conducting a random audit of Mayo, or it may have been tipped off.
Becker said it's not unusual for the government to focus its attention on a physician group as large as Mayo.
"The government has always gone where the money is," Becker said.