The U.S. Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services have reached a $24 million settlement with Forba, a dental management company based in Nashville, Tenn., to resolve False Claims Act allegations stemming from dental care performed at its Small Smiles Centers.
There are three Small Smiles clinics in Kansas, including one in Wichita at 650 N. Carriage Parkway. The others are in Topeka and Kansas City.
Federal officials said Wednesday that Forba and nearly 70 Small Smiles clinics in 21 states and the District of Columbia performed unnecessary and substandard dental procedures, then billed the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for them. Children's dental services are covered by Medicaid.
The $24 million plus interest will go to the federal government and the affected states, according to Tony West, assistant attorney general.
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Kansas Attorney General Steve Six's office said the Kansas portion of the recovery is $1.19 million. Medicaid is funded by states and by the federal government; about $475,000 of the amount will be in state funds.
The Small Smiles Centers, in Kansas and elsewhere, have been the focus of media investigations and complaints from parents and other dentists for years. The clinics serve low-income families who often don't have access to other dental care.
The Wichita clinic, which is owned by dentist Reza Akbar, opened in 2005. A Wichita Eagle story two years ago detailed some of the parents' and dentists' concerns about it, including the use of "papoose board" restraints used on children and multiple root canals or other procedures done in one appointment.
Akbar, reached Wednesday, referred questions to Forba. A Forba spokesman released a statement saying the agreement "encourages us to continue to focus on vital, high-quality dental care for children in America's low-income communities and allows us to build on the improvements implemented since the company was acquired in September 2006."
West said a federal investigation showed that Forba and the Small Smiles clinics followed business practices "designed to maximize corporate profits."
Though investigations showed dedicated dentists providing appropriate services, they also found "too many instances of dentists who were overly aggressive" in performing procedures, because Forba pressured its dentists to generate revenue.
West and Daniel Levinson, inspector general for Health and Human Services, said the government chose not to force Forba to cease operations because the company has taken several steps over the past year to ensure compliance with federal regulations, had entered into a corporate integrity agreement, had agreed to cooperate with investigations looking at individual dentists and provided the only source of dental care for many low-income children.
"We wanted to strike a balance" between preserving dental access and punishing wrongdoing, West said. "This agreement strikes that balance."