The State of Illinois must continue to enforce the protection of Whistleblowers. The Chicago Whistleblower ordinance is a bust. Please read the article below from the Chicago Tribune. Patrick McDonough.
New law pays whistleblowers
January 16, 2008
There's a Latin phrase, qui tam, that elevates the often lonely and miserable work of the government whistleblower.
The legal provision loosely translates as a private person standing in the king's shoes, or a private person who represents the state's interest.
But for the whistleblowers, who identify the fraud and then risk their livelihoods, those shoes feel anything but kingly.
That's why we applaud an important change in our state whistleblower law, which went into effect Jan. 1.
The law, first passed in 1991, protects whistleblowers from retribution and offers rewards. If the government recovers money from contractors defrauding state government, the whistleblower can take home up to 30 percent.
Until last week, the law only applied to whistleblowers in state government and a handful of Illinois municipalities. Now, the Whistleblower Reward and Protection Act offers protections and rewards for people who identify fraud in all forms of government -- from counties to the CTA and the local Water Reclamation District.
For Illinois, which has more units of local government than any other state, 7,000 to 8,000, that matters.
"The state of Illinois gets a fair amount of scrutiny, but in a lot of other communities, without large media outlets and nonprofit [watchdogs], no one is watching them at the same level, so this is a pretty useful tool," said Jay Stewart, executive director of the Better Government Association, a watchdog group.
Health care fraud is most commonly targeted through this law, particularly Medicaid fraud. Cases have included overbilling by drug companies, bill padding or "upcoding" medical problems to get a higher reimbursement.
The law, pushed by Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, offers incentives for whistleblowers and also can serve as a powerful deterrent. If the government proves fraud, the contractor must repay the government three times the damages plus fines. The contractor must also pay legal fees both for the whistleblower and the government.
And we're not talking about petty cash. In a recent case initiated in Illinois by the Goldberg Kohn law firm, the Illinois attorney general's office and federal authorities, the insurance company Amerigroup was found liable for $334 million for discriminating against pregnant women. The Vietnam veteran who identified the fraud is eligible for between 15 percent and 30 percent of that money.
The Illinois attorney general's office, along with private attorneys, have aggressively gone after these cases since Lisa Madigan was elected in 2002, netting more than $45 million for the government, plus $162 million in the Amerigroup case, which is on appeal.
Under a similar federal law, the government has recovered more than $20 billion since 1986. More than $2 billion went to whistleblowers, according the U.S. Department of Justice. Nearly all those federal cases were initiated by whistleblowers.
"Without whistleblowers, the government would find 80 percent less fraud," said Patrick Burns of Taxpayers Against Fraud, a Washington D.C.-based not-for-profit.
We're not naive enough to believe the expansion of the Illinois law will create a stampede of whistleblowers. These cases take years and often result in a firing and public scorn. Many of these whistleblowers -- doctors, nurses, pharmacists -- have a lot to lose.
"I don't know any [whistleblower] who would do it again," said attorney Michael Behn, who has secured three or four successful settlements for Illinois whistleblowers in the last few years. "It's a miserable existence. The money certainly helps after going through all this. But in the interim, after being fired for being a whistleblower, it's very difficult."
But for those willing to stick their necks out, Illinois has done what it can to make it worth their while.
It now has a comprehensive law that offers meaningful incentives for whistleblowers and deterrents for wrongdoers. Illinois also has an attorney general who, by all accounts, has empowered a strong staff to take on these cases.
In the fight against corruption, this law is another tool in our toolbox, the BGA's Stewart says.
We'll take it. In the corrupt Land of Lincoln, we can use all the help we can get.