Times expose on A.K. Desai enumerates shady acts aplenty

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Few in Florida’s political circles don’t know, or know of, Ashkay “AK” Desai, St Pete geriatrician, Republican fundraiser, and appointee to esteemed boards or posts under each of the past three governors; but even fewer can feign true surprise at recent revelations of Desai’s business and financial practices as the founder and president of Universal Health Care, a managed care company with more than 140,000 members, which was just raided and shut down by federal investigators.

The Tampa Bay Times published on Saturday a thorough expose of Desai’s rise and fall — personally, politically and most specifically regarding the implosion of Universal Healthcare — and is worth reading in full. 

Although federal authorities have not filed any individual criminal charges, Desai “controlled almost all of Universal’s stock” and answered to no one in the operation of his company which is accused of fraud, embezzlement and diversion of funds.

Here is a synopsis of “shady” activities enumerated within the Times‘ piece:

  • Desai’s control extended to individual claims. He or a top lieutenant personally approved all hospital claims above $25,000 and physician claims above $2,500, employees said.
  • [Former medical director, Dr. Edward] Lowenstein said he was shocked when Desai told him never to authorize the use of electric wheelchairs. Patients could either use walkers or find someone to push them around, Desai insisted.
  • [Bruce] Hoffman, the former Universal compliance officer, said he told Desai in 2009 that the company was skirting regulations and being too aggressive with marketing. “I said, ‘Doc, you either follow the rules or you don’t,’ ” Hoffman recalled. “He said, ‘No, there’s a gray area, it all depends on how you interpret it.’ “
  • To make company finances look better, Universal executives directed employees to inflate how much money was in certain accounts, regulators said.
  • Universal outsourced many services to a vendor in India without required state approval.
  • It also paid millions of dollars a year to Desai’s medical practice and to another company he owned, American Managed Care, to handle claims and other services.
  • [Customer] complaints poured in. For three years in a row, federal Medicare overseers gave Universal poor quality ratings, for long delays and frequent claim rejections.
  • Case in point: Wilma Keck, 80, of Spring Hill broke her hip, then developed serious heart problems while vacationing in Canada. Universal promised to pay all of her hospital and medical bills. Instead, the company left Keck owing $21,632. She is paying it off $150 a month from her Social Security.
  • Despite recording $27 million losses in the previous year and with losses only getting worse, “Desai kept up his illusion of success”, giving himself a $2.5 million bonus in addition to his $900,000 salary while continuing to jet around with national leaders and host lavish parties.