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VENTURA COUNTY SEEKS HELP; TIPPER GORE MAY BE ENLISTED IN HEALTH SERVICES ROW.

Byline: Krystn Shrieve Staff Writer

Ventura County officials are hoping political leaders - and Tipper Gore - can flex the political muscle needed to end the federal government's hammering of their troubled Behavioral Health Department.

Ventura County Supervisor John Flynn plans to send a letter to Vice President Al Gore's wife, a mental health advocate, asking her to use her influence to bring a speedy conclusion to a federal investigation into the department's Medicare billing practices. He also wants to call on Rep. Elton Gallegly and California's two senators to lend their support, according to a proposal set to be discussed next week by the board.

``The investigation has been going on for more than a year and I think it's gone on long enough,'' Flynn said. ``I think we've reached the end of the road. And the road we traveled has given us nothing.''

Gore has had a long-standing interest in mental health issues, explained her communications director Camille Johnston, who refused to comment on Flynn's request.

In a memo sent Wednesday to the Board of Supervisors, Flynn recommended that the county ask Gore, Gallegly and Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer to encourage the federal government to wrap up its investigations.

A spokesman for Gallegly said it would be premature for the Oxnard Republican to comment.

Supervisor Frank Schillo said he was interested in discussing the proposal.

``I think we need all the help we can get,'' Schillo said. ``It's a pretty creative idea.''

Officials from the Health Care Financing Administration, which is conducting the investigations, did not return telephone calls.

Late last year, health care administration officials said the controversial creation of the county's Human Services Agency - a merger of the Behavioral Health and Public Social Services Agency - violated guidelines for receiving Medicare reimbursements.

The main problem, the administration's officials said, was that the structure did not place Ventura County Medical Center in direct control of medical services being rendered. Instead, the hospital and its clinics were placed under the umbrella of the new $171 million-a-year Human Services Agency which oversaw both medical and social programs.

Part of the administration's concerns were resolved last month when the insurance agency doing the investigation said the county will be responsible for reimbursing an estimated $100,000 to $300,000 for the first 42 days of the merger rather than the entire nine months the merger was in effect.

However, the health care administration is still investigating billing practices used at the county's 42 clinics. Billing practices have been cleared at nine of the clinics.

Flynn said the county has already spent money on trips to the administration's regional headquarters in San Francisco for meetings, as well as time on telephone calls and correspondence.

``We've done all these things and it hasn't produced any results at all,'' Flynn said.

Flynn said officials at the administration should have told county officials that the merger between the Behavioral Health Department and the Public Social Services Agency would not work.

``HCFA led us to believe that if we made some structural changes the merger could be approved,'' Flynn said in his memo. ``They should have told (county officials) that we should cease the merger immediately. Instead they said: Try again.''

He also said most of the county's clinics are undergoing continued scrutiny by the federal agency.

``They have refused and/or rejected to consider the arguments put forth by the (county) that they indeed meet the letter of the law,'' Flynn wrote.

Tipper Gore, who has said she was treated for depression after her son was injured in a car crash, is a mental health policy adviser to President Clinton and chaired a White House conference on mental health in June.

Prior to Clinton taking office, Gore worked with a number of mental health advocacy groups. In 1990, she founded Tennessee Voices for Children, a coalition to promote the development of services for children and youths with serious behavioral, emotional, substance abuse or other mental health problems.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 2, 1999
Words:662
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