UNITED STATES NEWS

Judge orders Montana health clinic to pay nearly $6 million over false asbestos claims

Jul 22, 2023, 4:23 PM

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A health clinic in a Montana town plagued by deadly asbestos contamination must pay the government almost $6 million in penalties and damages after it submitted hundreds of false asbestos claims, a judge ruled.

The 337 false claims made patients eligible for Medicare and other benefits they shouldn’t have received. The federally funded clinic has been at the forefront of the medical response to deadly pollution from mining near Libby, Montana

The judgement against the Center for Asbestos Related Disease clinic comes in a federal case filed by BNSF Railway in 2019 under the False Claims Act, which allows private parties to sue on the government’s behalf.

BNSF — which is itself a defendant in hundreds of asbestos-related lawsuits — alleged the center submitted claims on behalf of patients without sufficient confirmation they had asbestos-related disease.

After a seven-person jury agreed last month, U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen said in a July 18 order that he was imposing a stiff penalty to prevent future misconduct.

Christensen said he was concerned in particular that the clinic’s high-profile doctor, Brad Black, had diagnosed himself with asbestos-related disease and that a nurse gave a similar diagnosis to her own mother.

The judge also cited evidence at trial of high rates of opioid prescriptions from the clinic for people who may not have had a legitimate asbestos-related diagnosis.

The clinic demonstrated “a reckless disregard for proper medical procedure and the legal requirements of government programs,” the judge wrote.

As instructed by the law, the judge tripled the $1.1 million in damages found by the jury, to almost $3.3 million, and imposed $2.6 million in additional penalties.

The judge awarded BNSF 25% of the proceeds, as allowed under the False Claims Act. Federal prosecutors previously declined to intervene in the case, and there have been no criminal charges brought against the clinic.

The clinic’s attorneys appealed the jury’s verdict to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday. Clinic director Tracy McNew has said the facility could be forced into bankruptcy if forced to pay a multimillion-dollar judgement.

McNew and Black did not immediately respond to messages Saturday seeking comment.

The verdict also could harm the clinic’s reputation and potentially undermine lawsuits by asbestos victims against BNSF and others that courts have held liable for contamination that’s turned Libby into one of the nation’s deadliest polluted sites.

The Libby area was declared a Superfund site two decades ago following media reports that mine workers and their families were getting sick and dying due to hazardous asbestos dust.

BNSF operated a railyard in town through which asbestos-tainted vermiculite was transported from the nearby W.R. Grace Co. mine.

Health officials have said at least 400 people have been killed and thousands sickened from asbestos exposure in the Libby area.

The clinic has certified more than 3,400 people with asbestos-related diseases and received more than $20 million in federal funding, according to court documents.

Hampering the clinic’s defense in the false claims case was a ruling that barred testimony from former U.S. Sen. Max Baucus of Montana. Baucus helped craft a provision in the Affordable Care Act that made Libby asbestos victims eligible for government benefits. He’s said the clinic was acting in line with that law.

Asbestos-related diseases can range from a thickening of a person’s lung cavity that can hamper breathing to deadly cancer.

Exposure to even a minuscule amount of asbestos can cause lung problems, according to scientists. Symptoms can take decades to develop.

United States News

FILE - An Amazon worker delivers packages in Los Angeles on Oct. 1, 2020. July sales events have be...

Associated Press

Amazon Prime Day deals are almost here. Should you take advantage of them?

NEW YORK (AP) — It’s summertime, and the bargains seem easy at a time when many consumer prices are high. July sales events have become a seasonal revenue driver for the retail industry since Amazon launched its first Prime Day back in 2015. While consumers may be enticed by the advertised can’t-miss savings on some […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Shooting kills 3 people including a young child in a car on an Alabama street

Three people including a young child were killed when their car was targeted with multiple gunshots outside a residence in Birmingham, Alabama, on Saturday evening. The Birmingham Police Department said in a social media post that a triple homicide investigation was underway in the 3400 Block of 27th Street North. The police said officers responded […]

4 hours ago

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is covered by U.S. Secret Service a...

Associated Press

The Secret Service is investigating how a gunman who shot and injured Trump was able to get so close

The Secret Service is investigating how a gunman was able to get close enough to shoot at former President Donald Trump at a rally Saturday.

5 hours ago

Carlton Smith, left, and Justin Nimmo pose in from of the console of the Barton Opus 234 theater or...

Associated Press

Reviving Hollywood glamor of the silent movie era, experts piece together a century-old pipe organ

DETROIT (AP) — A massive pipe organ that underscored the drama and comedy of silent movies with live music in Detroit’s ornate Hollywood Theatre nearly a century ago was dismantled into thousands of pieces and stashed away. The Barton Opus, built in 1927, spent four decades stored in a garage, attic and basement in suburban […]

6 hours ago

FILE - Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, left, and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator ...

Associated Press

Can a Medicaid plan that requires work succeed? First year of Georgia experiment is not promising

ATLANTA (AP) — By now, Georgia officials expected their new Medicaid plan, the only one in the nation with a work requirement, to provide health insurance to 25,000 low-income residents and possibly tens of thousands more. But a year since its launch, Pathways to Coverage has roughly 4,300 members, much lower than what state officials […]

6 hours ago

Catherine Ward, owner of One Acre Farms, a functioning educational farm to help special needs kids,...

Associated Press

After Beryl, Houston-area farmers pull together to face unique challenges

PORTER, Texas (AP) — Hurricanes cause trouble for everyone, but farmers have a whole other list of problems. Beryl has been no exception: Over the past week, the storm damaged crops, soaked rabbits and chickens, terrified goats, put horses at risk of developing colic and left cows without fences to keep them penned in. And […]

6 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Sanderson Ford

3 new rides for 3 new road trips in Arizona

It's time for the Sanderson Ford Memorial Day sale with the Mighty Fine 69 Anniversary, as Sanderson Ford turned 69 years old in May.

...

DISC Desert Institute for Spine Care

Sciatica pain is treatable but surgery may be required

Sciatica pain is one of the most common ailments a person can face, and if not taken seriously, it could become one of the most harmful.

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s 1 way to ensure your family is drinking safe water

Water is maybe one of the most important resources in our lives, and especially if you have kids, you want them to have access to safe water.

Judge orders Montana health clinic to pay nearly $6 million over false asbestos claims