Dan Levinson must be feeling like a bit of a sacrificial lamb.
His nearly year-old nomination to be the first permanent occupant of HHS' inspector general's office since the pistol-packing Janet Rehnquist left in June 2003 took another strange twist last week. Levinson has become the rare federal nominee to have his confirmation held up twice by different senators.
Levinson won Senate Finance Committee backing two months ago after Montana Sen. Max Baucus, the ranking Democrat on the panel, withdrew his hold on the nomination when he received information he had requested on the Medicare drug discount card.
Outliers has learned that a second hold has been placed on Levinson's confirmation by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who is angered that no response has been made to two 2004 Government Accountability Office reports accusing HHS of violating federal laws. HHS has failed to follow the GAO recommendation to collect $84,000 in pay given to former CMS Administrator Tom Scully for his threat to fire CMS Chief Actuary Richard Foster if Foster revealed to Congress the true cost of the Medicare prescription drug bill. Also, the GAO said HHS illegally used taxpayer money to pay for prepackaged news stories that were not attributed to the government, and nothing has come of that report.
"These violations by HHS constitute misuse and abuse of taxpayer funds, and Sen. Lautenberg believes that the HHS IG must address these problems" before Levinson can be confirmed, a spokesman for the senator says.
Levinson could not be reached for comment.
Scully, who left the CMS for a New York private equity company and a Washington lobbying firm, says, "I never did anything inappropriate and would never pay any money back. I'm happy to explain it to Sen. Lautenberg or anyone else, but no one has called me. I don't know what this has to do with Dan Levinson's confirmation."
Take two and call me, or else
We knew the era of the Mafia was ending, but now it's getting embarrassing. If legalized gambling, old age and relentless federal prosecutions haven't killed the mob, the latest news will.
The headline on the press release from the U.S. attorney in New York City read: "U.S. charges three Westchester doctors with providing Viagra and other prescription drugs to Gambino family members in return for personal and financial benefits."
Who's going to shiver in fear when they hear that the wise guys need some free medical assistance to, um, you know?
A three-year investigation revealed that suburban New York physicians Arlen Fleisher, Stephen Klass and George Shapiro "regularly and unlawfully" provided large amounts of Viagra, Cialis and Levitra to members and associates of New York's most prominent crime family, once led by John Gotti.
The docs in turn received discounted home construction costs, bootleg DVDs and free auto repairs performed at Gambino-controlled businesses. They also got access to the private table of acting mob boss Gregory DePalma at the legendary Rao's restaurant in Manhattan, an eatery frequented by mobsters such as Lucky Luciano, Paul Castellano and the late "Teflon Don" Gotti himself, all of whom "owned" tables there.
In one bugged phone conversation, Klass allegedly referred to himself as the medical "consigliere" for the Gambino family. In another, DePalma allegedly ordered Shapiro not to supply his underlings with Viagra anymore but to give it directly to him.
In the tapes DePalma swore, naturally, that he gave the drugs away and didn't use them himself. But according to the complaint, he kept asking for them.
The physicians face a maximum of 10 years in prison.
Phone calls seeking comment from Fleisher, Klass and Shapiro were not returned. Outliers confesses to not having the moxie to call DePalma for comment.
Leaders of health systems that have won the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award are on a roll.
Sister Mary Jean Ryan, president and chief executive of SSM Health Care, St. Louis, which in 2002 became the first healthcare recipient of the Baldrige, has now received the American Hospital Association's Award of Honor.
The award is given in recognition of contributions to the health and well-being of people through leadership on major health policies or social initiatives. In 2004 SSM became the largest healthcare system to go tobacco-free (Outliers, Feb. 16, 2004, p. 36). Ryan was also named last year as the seventh most powerful person in healthcare by Modern Healthcare.
Meanwhile, Christy Stephenson, CEO of the 2004 Baldrige winner, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton (N.J.) has been honored as one of the Girl Scouts of Delaware-Raritan's Women of Distinction for 2005.
The Women of Distinction program partners outstanding Girl Scouts with an accomplished group of women who exemplify dedication, leadership and commitment in their communities and in their fields of expertise. These women share their wisdom and experience with older Girl Scouts designated as Girl Scouts of distinction.
These designees are provided the opportunity to "shadow" women at work, learn more about careers, and hear about successes and challenges faced by professional women. Stephenson's shadow is Chauncey Smith of Hamilton.
Smith may be a shadow, but she isn't about to follow in Stephenson's footsteps. She says her goals include earning a law degree and pursuing a career with the FBI.