My letters to the aged care licensing sector
of the Department of Health and Family Services had been written to
put me in a position to apply pressure when they failed to respond.
Sun's withdrawal in Victoria after a probity check provided the
trigger I needed to exert pressure. For more than a year the
department had refused to acknowledge material and address issues
which had caused Victoria to mount a probity investigation whose
likely outcome caused Alpha and Sun to retreat. The labour
government's Health Minister in Queensland had taken up some of the
issues with the Federal Minister for Aged Care. I wrote directly to
both the Federal Ministers for Aged Care and Health. The president of
the AMA agreed to take up the matter with Dr. Wooldridge on my
behalf. This is the letter to Dr. Wooldridge.
7 January 1999
The Hon Dr Michael Wooldridge
Minister for Health and Family Services
I am writing to you personally because of the failure of the certification and approval section of your department to acknowledge letters and documents relating to the operations of Sun Healthcare in Australia. I ask that you should intervene personally to ensure that the matter receives attention. I have sent material by registered mail on multiple occasions for more than a year.
As you know Sun for practical purposes controls Alpha Healthcare which has indicated its intention to enter what it calls the nursing home and aged care "industry". It also controls at least six Moran facilities. Moran is primarily a nursing home provider. Sun's US statements indicate that it does now run nursing homes and/or long term care facilities in Australia. I understand that your department licences these facilities. I have correspondence from your department in 1994 in which the department boasts of the extent of its probity checks.
I am particularly concerned about this matter because it seems from the information available that a probity check in Victoria was about to report unfavourably on Sun's probity. When they were advised of this they elected to back away from their planned government contract. Victorian authorities were supplied with the same material as your department.
I believe that if the licensing authority has been changed then it would have been appropriate for your department to advise me and forward the material on.
I also supplied the same material to the Health Insurance Commission whose committee has been sitting on the matter for a year. I understand that they licence Alpha/Sun's pathology laboratories and are also responsible for policing health care fraud. Sun has been the subject of a series of allegations by US federal and state governments, as well as insurers that it has defrauded them. The federal investigation has been discontinued but in the USA such allegations are usually settled quietly out of court and we do not know what financial arrangements were made. Sun has not specifically denied the state and insurer allegations but is seeking to settle them.
I express my anxiety that corporate staff, appointed to senior positions in the HIC are exerting delaying tactics. It would not be in the interests of other corporations for there to be publicity and a public scandal about this matter. I believe that there is a conflict of interest here. To ordinary citizens like myself, it is disturbing that we now have a representative from a company with a serious criminal conviction in the recent past as chairman of the HIC. The HIC is responsible for policing and prosecuting fraud. I stress that I am not making allegations about the chairman himself or his integrity but expressing concerns about the situation. All I know of the chairman are his past public statements reported in the press and I find these worrying. They reflect business policies and practices which have been linked to fraud in the USA. They fail to reflect a genuine interest in the welfare of sick patients..
I have not written to you about these matters in the past as I understand the AMA is dealing with you and it is well informed.
I enclose a copy of my most recent letter to the certification section of your department.