Welcome to The Closing Bell. This is your last stop for biz scoops and big news before the weekend — a roundup of stories that can’t wait till Monday.
Feds investigating whether insurers defrauded Medicare
Federal authorities said they are investigating Humana and four other insurers as part of a whistleblower lawsuit that alleges the insurers defrauded Medicare by charging for services they did not provide.
Humana told Insider that the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating industry practices as a whole and that it is cooperating with the authorities.
In the suit, filed in 2011, the whistleblower, Benjamin Poehling, alleges that insurers submitted “false or fraudulent claims” under Medicare’s insurance and drug coverage programs and kept overpayments they received from those false claims.
The U.S. government intervened in the case in February. At the time, the DOJ said that it joined Poehling in his action against UnitedHealth Group and WellMed Medical Management, but declined to get involved in the case against the other insurers named in the suit.
Last week, however, the DOJ filed a “corrected” document and said that it “has been conducting and continues to conduct on-going investigations” of insurers including Cigna, Aetna and Humana.
“Until those investigations are completed, the United States cannot reach a decision about the liability of these other defendants,” the agency said.
Humana said in its annual report on Feb. 17 that the DOJ had requested information related to its Medicare prescription drug risk adjustment practices. Risk adjustment is part of the mechanism that the federal government uses to determine how to reimburse insurers and is based on variables such a patient’s age and health history that insurers have to submit.
Humana said the DOJ also was seeking information about “business and compliance practices related to risk adjustment data generated by our providers and by us, including medical record reviews conducted as part of our data and payment accuracy compliance efforts, the use of health and well-being assessments, and our fraud detection efforts.”
The insurer told Insider via email that the requests “are part of a larger investigation of the industry that Humana has disclosed publicly and cooperated with for some time. We are confident in our risk adjustment practices and our compliance program around them, and we will continue to cooperate with the investigation.”
“Humana has robust risk adjustment policies and procedures, routinely performs self-audits to improve accuracy and investigates allegations of fraud or misconduct related to risk adjustment,” the company said. —Boris Ladwig
Coffee shop and art gallery closes on Barret Avenue
Gallery K — an art gallery and coffee shop on Barret Avenue — recently announced its closure via Facebook by replacing its cover photo with the words: “The End.” A post followed, saying, “It pains me to write this but Gallery K has come to the end of its story. Thank you for the years of support, but it is time for us to move on.”
Insider first met Gallery K owner Will Ashton in 2015, when he opened the coffee shop/art gallery hybrid on Story Avenue. The Colorado native decided to move to Louisville from a job in Cincinnati and follow his dream of opening his own space. A year later, Ashton moved Gallery K to Barret Avenue to get a little more exposure and foot traffic.
Unfortunately, business never quite picked up enough to keep the shop afloat, and Ashton decided to close things down on March 13.
“To make a long story short, business was good but not growing fast enough,” Ashton tells Insider. “Louisville is an amazing city for coffee, and I knew it would be a rough market to break into. After almost three years, I was ready to pull the plug.”
Ashton isn’t quite done with Louisville, however. And that’s a good thing. He has his hands in a few projects coming soon but wouldn’t spill the beans. Also, he’s working on an arts-based magazine with some other gallery owners.
“In the end, I wanted to make an impact on the art community in Louisville. I know I have, but I’m not done yet,” he says. “As far as the gallery goes, it’s not done yet. Look for a big announcement in the next few weeks.”
State senator: Medical malpractice law a sign of things to come
Members of the Louisville long-term care industry on Tuesday applauded a Kentucky state senator for a new law that lets a panel of doctors review medical malpractice claims before they can be filed in court.
While proponents of the law say it will reduce “frivolous” lawsuits and attract more health care providers to Kentucky, opponents say it violates people’s right to a trial by jury.
“It’s been a very productive session,” state Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, said Tuesday at an event sponsored by the Health Enterprises Network.The HEN is part of Greater Louisville Inc., the local chamber of commerce, which supported the legislation authored by Alvarado, saying it was “a win for business and health care in the commonwealth.”
The event, called “FLATLINED: Resuscitating Long Term Care,” focused on challenges in the long-term care industry. Panelists included GLI Chief Operating Officer Sarah Davasher-Wisdom and Kindred Healthcare Senior Chief Medical Officer Dr. Marc Rothman.
Davasher-Wisdom said medical malpractice lawsuits have increased costs for consumers and driven long-term care providers out of the state, which has left some people without access to care.
Alvarado said it was “fun” to finally have control of both houses of the state legislature and said the medical malpractice bill was “just the beginning.”
Alvarado, a physician, said that he hopes to soon pass bills that would cap the amount of damages that can be awarded in medical malpractice cases, which, he said, may require a constitutional amendment.
Attorneys have trained doctors not to trust their judgment, he said. The fear of being sued is prompting doctors to order unnecessary tests just to make sure they won’t get sued if they miss something, which does not help patients and drives up costs.
“That’s not good for anybody,” Alvarado said.
The state senator also said he would like to see a law that prevents a doctor’s apology to a patient or patient family from being used against him in a court of law.
Venture Connectors Luncheon topic: growing to be acquired
C.I.Agent Solutions‘ founder Dan Parker spent years building up his company to be attractive for acquisition. It’s a journey he’ll discuss at the next Venture Connectors meeting on Wednesday, April 5.
The environmental cleanup company became an industry leader that got the attention of Mattoon, Ill.-based Justrite Manufacturing Co., a provider of products for the safe management of flammable liquids. Justrite purchased C.I.Agent Solutions in November.
Parker founded the company in 2000. Among many notable projects, the company helped clean up the oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
The company was attractive to Justrite because of the people and the technology. C.I.Agent Solutions had a revenue of just under $10 million at the time of its acquisition.
Parker is a Louisville native and has been a serial entrepreneur throughout his life.
Venture Connectors meetings are held on the first Wednesday of each month at the Muhammad Ali Center, 144 N. Sixth St. Doors open at 11:30 a.m., and the meeting runs from noon-1:15 p.m. Registration is required at www.ventureconnectors.org. Members attend free; associate members pay $30. Guests who register online by noon the day before the lunch pay $40. –Melissa Chipman
Whisky Magazine releases its Icons of Whisky awards, and there are many familiar names
There are so many familiar names among the Icons of Whisky awards generated by Whisky Magazine, we don’t exactly know where to draw the line as far as coverage goes. The annual awards were just released for the regional division, and the global awards will be announced Thursday, March 30.
But back to the winners for now. If we’re just keeping it Louisville-centric, we have to give props to Westport Whiskey & Wine, which was named to the shortlist for best Single Outlet Retails of the Year, competing with the likes of New York City’s Astor Wines & Spirits. It’s no easy feat to even be mentioned, when you consider comparing liquor stores all over the country.
“We’re humbled by this announcement and thankful to all those that voted for us,” said WW&W co-owner Chris Zaborowski in a press release. “Considering there a thousands of retailers throughout America, it’s truly an honor to have even been nominated, let alone make the shortlist.”
Other Louisville notables include Bernie Lubbers (Heaven Hill Brands) and Jackie Zykan (Brown-Forman), who were both on the shortlist for American Whiskey Brand Ambassador of the Year; Brown-Forman on the shortlist of Distiller of the Year; Kimberley Bennett (Beam Suntory), who helped create the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse at Fourth Street Live, and Dee Ford (Angel’s Envy) on the shortlist for Visitor Attraction Manager of the Year; and Bulleit and the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience on the shortlist for Visitor Attraction of the Year.
State fair gets new logo as part of broader changes
Kentucky Venues — the new name for the Kentucky State Fair Board — has premiered a new logo and brand for the Kentucky State Fair that will be used in all advertising, on signage and fair materials.
“This brand celebrates Kentucky’s rich agriculture heritage and the tradition of summertime fun,” Jason Rittenberry, president and CEO of Kentucky Venues, said in a news release. “It’s important to communicate the energy and excitement of the Fair in a colorful way.”
The new logo will be paired with the tagline “Uniquely Kentucky. Uniquely Fun.” The changes are part of a larger rebranding effort by Kentucky Venues to better market venues for events.
This year’s state fair is Aug. 17- 27 at the Kentucky Exposition Center. The event include midway rides, agriculture exhibits and livestock, entertainment tents, food, three paid concerts, 11 free concerts and the World’s Championship Horse Show. —Caitlin Bowling
New barbecue joint opening in St. Matthews
Maryland-based barbecue restaurant Mission BBQ plans to open its first Louisville location.
The company will invest an estimated $510,000 to build-out the 4,619-square-foot restaurant at 4607 Shelbyville Road in St. Matthews, according to the city building permit. (That’s just past Shebyville Road Plaza but before Mall St. Matthews.) The restaurant will have an occupancy of 170.
Mission BBQ was started in 2011 by two friends with an idea to give back to organizations like the USO, the Navy Seal Foundation and other nonprofits that work with current and former military as well as first responders, according to is website. It also has made a commitment to hire veterans.
Each restaurant location is decorated in patriotic decor, including tributes to those who’ve served in the U.S. Armed Forces, and the menu includes classic dishes such as brisket, pulled chicken, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, ribs and green beans. Prices range from $4.99 for a salad to $18.99 for 10 Bay-B-Back Ribs.—Caitlin Bowling
Norton Commons planting community garden, meadow
The newest amenities at Norton Commons will include a wildflower meadow and community garden.
The garden will feature 32 4-by-10-foot raised beds, and the meadow will incorporate native Kentucky species that will attract pollinators, birds and butterflies. Both will be located at Bergamot Drive and Chamberlain Lane, just west of the community’s amphitheater and lakes.
“This is a collaborative project and will bring together residents of all ages to share in the harvests of vegetables and herbs,” Marilyn Osborn Patterson, marketing director for Norton Commons, said in a news release. “It’s the next extension of our farm to fork initiatives that began two years ago when we launched our farmers’ market.”
Norton Commons Neighborhood Association management staff and volunteers are overseeing the garden. All the beds are currently leased out.
Smoketown Family Wellness Center breaking ground this weekend
The Presbyterian Community Center on South Hancock Street soon will be transformed into The Smoketown Family Wellness Center. To celebrate, the public is invited to a groundbreaking ceremony on Saturday as renovations get underway.
The new wellness center will provide pediatric care and family wellness services to the residents of the Smoketown neighborhood to combat the lower life expectancies in the neighborhood.
Mayor Greg Fischer will speak at the event — which is from 1-3 p.m. — and Smoketown residents of all ages will be encouraged to share their stories on the walls of the clinic exam room area. The center is located at 760 S. Hancock St.
The Smoketown Family Wellness Center is a project of one of the 2016 Bingham Fellows groups. –Melissa Chipman