NPS acrage. Photo submitted

PICTURED: Area in the Santa Monica Mountains purchased by the National Park Service. Photo submitted

 

Providers agree to pay $70M to resolve allegations of false Medi-Cal claims

A Ventura County health care plan created by the board of supervisors in 2011 and three Medi-Cal providers have agreed to pay over $70 million to resolve allegations over false claims, according to California Attorney General Rob Bonta.

“Medi-Cal props up our communities by providing access to free or affordable healthcare services for millions of Californians and their families. Those who attempt to cheat the system are cheating our communities of essential care,” Bonta said in an Aug. 18 news release.

The allegations were made against Gold Coast Health Plan as well as Dignity Health, Clinicas del Camino Real and Ventura County which operates Ventura County Medical Center.

State officials said false claims were submitted in an “organized scheme to wrongfully retain federal funds” and the allegations stemmed from two whistleblowers who formerly worked as Gold Coast Health Plan’s controller and director of member services.

Under the whistleblower provisions, actions can be filed on behalf of the state and people making the claims receive a portion of any recovery, according to the news release.     

Officials with Gold Coast Health Plan said in a news release that the settlement represents a compromise.

“Although Gold Coast Health Plan believes that its disbursements to providers under this program were lawful and proper, we agreed to participate in a mediation with the regulators to reach a settlement to prevent an expensive and protracted process,” said Nick Liguori, GCHP’s chief executive officer. “The settlement reflects a compromise that will finally and fully resolve this dispute.”

11 Carrizo Plain oil wells will fade into history

A lawsuit by environmental groups against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management will lead to the closure and restoration of 11 long-dormant oil wells at Carrizo Plain National Monument northwest of Ventura County. 

The lawsuit stemmed from a 2020 approval of a new well and replacement of a dilapidated pipeline during a time when the Trump administration was pushing for more oil development on public lands, according to a news release by the environmental groups.

“It’s exciting to see the beginning of the end of oil extraction in the Carrizo Plain. This is a place for wildflowers and kit foxes, not oil wells,” said Ileene Anderson, senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The agreement will benefit all the rare plants and animals of this stunning landscape. And it’s one more step toward leaving a livable planet to future generations by stopping fossil fuel extraction.”

According to the news release, there are currently nine active oil wells inside the monument boundaries.

CBS, ESPN to televise the Throw Down

Ventura makes a claim to fame about holding the world’s largest cornhole festival, and now it will be in the spotlight with some nationwide recognition.

CBS sports will televise the Throw Down Cornhole Festival on Friday, Aug. 26, and ESPN will also cover the entire event for airing later on.

Festival organizers said they expect 1,024 teams from 48 states as well as teams from England, Canada, Mexico and Sweden. (Alaska and New Hampshire are not represented yet, organizers said in a news release.) Cash prizes totaling $350,000 will be awarded to the winning teams.

Youth Ride Free starting Sept. 1

Ventura County kids will soon be able to ride local public transit buses for free. Nine local transit operators,including Gold Coast Transit District and Ventura County Transportation Commission (VCTC) Intercity Service, will participate in the Youth Ride Free program. The program begins on Thursday, Sept. 1, and is currently slated to run through 2024.

“The Youth Ride Free program is a way to introduce public transit to the younger people in our community and encourage them to become lifelong public transit users,” VCTC Executive Director Martin Erickson said in a news release. “Increased transit ridership means less congestion on streets and highways and will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. By offering free fares for youths, transit operators in Ventura County also can provide some economic relief to families who are struggling with high gas prices and other rising costs due to inflation.”

The Youth Ride Free program is funded by a grant from California’s Low Carbon Transit Operations Program, a part of the state’s cap-and-trade program.

45 acres in Santa Monica Mountains acquired for conservation

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area officials have announced the acquisition of 45 acres of land adjacent to the Backbone Trail which stretches from Point Mugu to Pacific Palisades.

Park officials say the land in the Circle X Ranch area is a critical portion of the trail’s viewshed, and includes steep chaparral habitat and rocky outcrops. 

Outdoor Recreation Planner Justin Yee said in a news release that many people are unaware that the park service continues to acquire land for conservation in the Santa Monica Mountains.

“We like to believe that visitors hiking in the Western Santa Monica Mountains would appreciate knowing that a particular section of land was preserved in a pristine and undisturbed state unspoiled by development for their enjoyment,” Yee said.

Four separate parcels were acquired using funds from the Land and Water Conservation Fund which was authorized by the Great American Outdoors act of 2020.  

— Alex Wilson