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“I look at the things that the government pays,” he said. “It’s a habit of mine for the past 56 years.”
He complained to Medicare about the $3,019 in charges for the therapy he never used. Medicare got its money back. But that’s not enough for Kotalik. He wants a full probe, possibly under the False Claims Act, the old federal law that lets whistleblowers collect a cut of the money they recover for the government.
The government doesn’t typically pursue four-figure False Claims cases, but it does have a program that rewards up to $1,000 to people who turn in smaller scale waste and fraud. The vigilance of people like Kotalik is encouraging to Stephen Kohn, executive director of the National Whistleblowers Center, an advocacy group in Washington.
“It’s very important for Health and Human Services to make a payment in a small case, because it sends a message,” Kohn said. “There never really is a small violation, because a small violation is a door into potentially bigger violations.”
Before Kotalik left our meeting, he mentioned another outcome of his surgery. Last year, Kotalik filed a lawsuit in state court in North Dakota against more than 180 companies and individuals, alleging that the asbestos on the Grand Forks Air Force Base had damaged his lungs.
He’s scheduled to go to trial next March.
Contact James Eli Shiffer at email@example.com or 612-673-4116. Read his blog at startribune.com/fulldisclosure.