NEW YORK TIMES CALLS TO END CULTURE OF CORRUPTION AND CRONYISM
January 7, 2006
New Jersey's Medical School Mess
If Jon Corzine, the governor-elect of New Jersey, wants to cleanse the whiff of impropriety still lingering from his coziness with machine politicians, he has a very good place to start. He can do what some associates say he plans to do and throw his weight behind cleaning up corruption and mismanagement at the state's health care university.
The scope of the wrongdoing at that institution, the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, is staggering. More than $700 million in no-bid contracts was awarded over five years, often to politically connected recipients, some of whom did little or no work for the money. Jobs were filled by patronage. School funds were siphoned off for campaign contributions to elected officials. Lavish perquisites and bonuses were given to administrators. The board was riddled with conflicts of interest.
The most egregious wrong, to our mind, was the double-billing of Medicaid for the care provided to poor people. Doctors were billing for the services they provided at university clinics, and the university was separately billing for the same services, generating almost $5 million in extra payments at latest count. What makes this double-billing especially reprehensible is that university officials were warned by internal whistle-blowers and outside counsel years ago that the practice was probably illegal. Those responsible for continuing the overcharging scheme deserve to be indicted.
These sorry events speak to a culture of corruption and cronyism in the state and a paucity of strong oversight and monitoring. It should be a mark of shame for New Jersey that the driving force in calling the university to account was a federal prosecutor - United States Attorney Christopher Christie - not the governor, the state attorney general, the Legislature or the university's board of trustees.
Using the threat of criminal prosecution of the university for health care fraud, Mr. Christie forced the trustees to adopt a number of management reforms, accept a federal monitor and agree to repay the overcharges. The continuing federal investigation and monitoring may well turn up further evidence of abuses. But reform should not be left to a federal prosecutor and a monitor or to a university board and administration that have been woefully slow to move against corruption in the past.
The governorship in New Jersey is the most powerful in the nation. Mr. Corzine needs to use every tool at his disposal to restore the reputation of a medical institution whose most dedicated practitioners are committed to excellence and appalled at the administrative corruption around them.