from www.dailynews.com – Amid an escalating war between the two organizations, the nation’s largest AIDS/HIV care provider is seeking to block Los Angeles County from launching an audit of its finances on Monday.
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation on Thursday asked a federal court to postpone the scheduled audit, which the group called “illegitimate” and “retaliatory.”
The audit had been scheduled after the county concluded that AHF overbilled the Department of Public Health by $1.7 million in fiscal year 2008-09, by charging for costs already covered by Medi-Cal, Medicare, private insurance, grants and fees.
AHF is already battling with the county over several other fronts, including an effort to gut the health department by forcing the city of Los Angeles to create its own health agency through a ballot initiative, under the argument that the county department is a corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy. It also has pending lawsuits against the county over its contracting practices and its response to syphilis and meningitis outbreaks.
Through its attorneys, the county issued a statement that it “is aware of the request for the temporary restraining order and intends to oppose it.”
AHF co-founder and president Michael Weinstein emphatically denied that his organization overbilled the county, stating “We are clean as a whistle!” and accusing the county of conducting a “retaliatory campaign” against AHF for being a fierce critic of its policies and practices.
He said the county has audited it continuously over the last five months, straining its ability to care for patients.
“We don’t dispute the county’s right to audit nor our responsibility to provide whatever information we are contractually obligated to provide, but it crosses the line into retaliation and harassment when it’s continuous,” Weinstein said.
He asked the U.S. Central District Court on Thursday to postpone the latest audit for five weeks to give his staff “breathing room” and let them clear the backlog of work that piled up on their desks while they were dealing with the previous audits.
“There is a substantial likelihood that the commencement of yet another audit on July 22, 2013 — this one of unprecedented scope — will stretch AHF’s personnel to a razor-thin margin and ultimately impact patient care and services, which is AHF’s reason for being in the first place,” Weinstein wrote in his declaration to the court.
“AHF does not take the position that the new audit may not take place,” Weinstein added. “AHF is confident the new audit will show that AHF has at all times complied with its obligations to the county and AHF patients.”
The Department of Public Health’s Division of HIV and STD Programs president Mario Perez explained the federal government now requires annual fiscal audits of providers such as AHF.
In the letter last week, Perez told Weinstein, “Your assertion that routine, required audits are being used in a retaliatory manner against AHF is false.”
Perez also dismissed claims the audit would harm HIV/AIDS patients, saying other groups that have been audited have not reported any effect on patient care.
But Weinstein insisted, “You can maim or kill a program by constantly auditing it. Our staff has a right to take a vacation.”
He said the county was using audits to retaliate against AHF for successfully getting voters to approve a ballot initiative requiring the porn industry to require its actors to wear condoms while filming in the county.
Weinstein said he expects the federal court to decide Friday or Monday whether or not to grant the restraining order.