Columbus – Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine today announced his support of a state False Claims Act (FCA) being introduced by state Senators Jim Hughes (R-Columbus) and Scott Oelslager (R- North Canton). Often known as a "whistleblower protection law," the proposed legislation would encourage those with knowledge of fraud involving Ohio funds to come forward.
"At a time when every penny counts, we must do all we can to recover as much as possible for Ohio and our taxpayers," said Attorney General Mike DeWine. "By establishing a state law protecting and encouraging those with insider knowledge of fraud to come to us, we can retain critical state funds."
A state FCA allows a share of recoveries to be paid to a whistleblower as an incentive to come forward with information. Incentives to file suit may bring fraud to light sooner so that fraudulent activity does not continue unabated.
The proposed legislation would not target those who make innocent mistakes. In those cases, only the money received, plus interest, would have to be repaid. Penalties would be assessed only when it is proven that a false claim was knowingly made. Under Ohio's False Claims Act, wrongdoers may be required to pay treble damages and penalties up to $11,000 for each false claim.
"This bill would give Ohio another tool to help recover funds that have been obtained fraudulently, while maintaining important safeguards for whistleblowers," said Senator Hughes. "I want to thank Attorney General DeWine for his support and look forward to working with his office and others in moving this bill through the Legislature."
"Given our limited resources, we must take whatever steps necessary to protect taxpayer dollars from fraud, waste, or abuse," Senator Oelslager said. This bill would provide us with another approach to getting those funds back."
The proposed law would enable Ohio to take advantage of a federal provision in Medicaid fraud cases. This is especially important since Ohio has the second largest Medicaid program in the country without benefit of a state false claims act. Normally, when states recover Medicaid funds, they must return the federal portion to the federal government. By establishing a federally compliant FCA, Ohio would be allowed to keep an additional 10 percent of any recovery.
"Not only would this legislation encourage whistleblowers and recover much-needed funds," said Attorney General DeWine, "we believe that just having the law at the state level will lead to increased vigilance among those doing business with the state of Ohio."
Attorney General DeWine also said that his office is increasing its Health Care Fraud investigative unit by a third, adding 5 agents, a Chief Auditor, Nurse Investigator and two attorneys. This will bring the Medicaid Fraud investigative personnel number to 28 with a total of 34 investigative agents including the Offices' agents who investigate patient abuse and neglect.
In addition to Medicaid fraud cases, other examples where Ohio's False Claims Act could be useful include: contractor falsifying test results regarding the quality of a product sold to the state; or if grant recipients charge the state for costs not related to the grant.
If the proposed state FCA passes, Ohio would join 27 other states, including Florida, Virginia, and Michigan, with their own FCA.
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Lisa Hackley 614-466-3840
Dan Tierney 614-466-3840