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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Rick Santorum's troubling connection

Erin Kelly

Staff Writer

Rick Santorum, a former U.S. Senator for Pennsylvania, wants to be the Republican nominee to run against President Obama next year. Unfortunately for him, he’s also embroiled in a health care scandal—this one involving Medicaid fraud, abuse of patients, and illegal kickbacks to doctors.

Universal Health Services Inc. (UHS) is one of the largest hospital chains in the country. Until recently, Santorum sat on its compensation board. While the compensation board it is not directly responsible for overseeing operations, it is responsible for making sure UHS operates safe and legal facilities. And it appears the board didn’t do its job properly, as UHS has been sued by the Department of Justice twice during Santorum’s tenure on the board.

According to the Huffington Post, a UHS-owned hospital in McAllen, Texas paid the U.S. government $27.5 million to “settle allegations of what amounted to medical payola, or providing kickbacks or ‘illegal compensation’ to doctors in an effort to pressure them to funnel patients to its hospitals.”

And in 2010, the Department of Justice filed suit against a medical facility in Virginia owned by UHS. They charged that the operators of the facility had committed Medicaid fraud by billing itself as an inpatient psychiatric facility for youth, when in fact, the facility doesn’t provide those services.

At another facility, a teenage patient died while being restrained by a staff member. The death was ruled a homicide.

The CEO of UHS has also donated $5,000 to Santorum’s political action committee.

So why is this relevant? Because Santorum has made his wish to dismantle health care reform overtly clear. In fact, he has said that his first order of business, if he were elected President, would be to repeal Affordable Care Act.

Santorum’s track record when it comes to health care is anything but stellar. If he can’t be trusted to ensure that a hospital chain’s management isn’t going to break the law, how can he be responsible for overhauling our nation’s complex health care system?

While the Affordable Care Act isn’t perfect, it makes leaps and bounds in leveling the playing field between consumers and insurance companies. It aims to reduce waste, fraud, and abuse within Medicaid, and will help millions of Americans to obtain affordable health care.

We’ve come too far to go back. We can’t afford to see what Santorum has in store for the nation’s health care system.