The University of Florida (UF) has agreed to pay the United States $19.875 million to settle allegations that the university improperly charged the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for salary and administrative costs on hundreds of federal grants, the Department of Justice announced Nov. 20. The grants in question were administered from the UF campuses in Gainesville and Jacksonville, Florida.
“The monies utilized by HHS to fund important medical research and clinical programs across the nation are both precious and limited,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “Today’s settlement demonstrates that the Department of Justice will pursue grantees that knowingly divert those funds from the projects for which they were provided.”
“As the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) awards more grant dollars than any other government agency, prudent oversight of those funds is absolutely essential,” said HHS Regional Inspector General for Audit Lori S. Pilcher. “Grantees must have internal controls promoting accountability and transparency,” she said. “Taxpayers should expect nothing less.”
The University of Florida receives millions of dollars in grant funding from HHS on hundreds of grants each year. The settlement announced Nov. 20 resolves the alleged misuse of grant funds awarded by HHS to UF between 2005 and December 2010. The United States contended that the university overcharged hundreds of grants for the salary costs of its employees, where it did not have documentation to support the level of effort claimed on the grants for those employees. The government also contended that UF charged some of these grants for administrative costs for equipment and supplies when those items should not have been directly charged to the grants under federal regulations. Lastly, UF allegedly inflated costs charged to HHS grants awarded at its Jacksonville campus for services performed by an affiliated entity, Jacksonville Healthcare Inc.
This settlement illustrates the government’s emphasis on combating health care fraud and marks another achievement for the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) initiative, which was announced in May 2009 by the Attorney General and the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The partnership between the two departments has focused efforts to reduce and prevent Medicare and Medicaid financial fraud through enhanced cooperation. One of the most powerful tools in this effort is the False Claims Act. Since January 2009, the Justice Department has recovered a total of more than $26.5 billion through False Claims Act cases, with more than $16.7 billion of that amount recovered in cases involving fraud against federal health care programs.
The settlement was the result of a coordinated effort by the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch and the HHS Office of the Inspector General, Office of Audit Services and Office of Investigations.
The claims resolved by the settlement are allegations only; there has been no determination of liability.