Last Saturday’s front-page report about the settlement of a Medicare fraud case against North East Mobile Health Services and Maine Medical Center was disappointing in two respects.

The U.S. attorney brought suit under the False Claims Act against the ambulance company and Maine Med for defrauding Medicare by providing inaccurate information about the medical conditions of patients to be transported by ambulance. He then settled the case for lump-sum cash payments from both defendants without either a finding or an acknowledgment of legal responsibility. Both defendants were permitted to insist that they had done no wrong, but settled to save the cost of defense.

A main purpose of public law enforcement actions is to enforce the public rules of conduct by citizens and businesses. A purely cash settlement without some finding or acknowledgment of the misconduct charged fails to convey to either the defendant or the public that there was misconduct or how serious it was.

By the same token, the Press Herald report of the settlement failed to provide its readers with enough information to permit them to determine whether the parties charged had, in fact, done what the government alleged. The defendants’ protestations of innocence took almost as much space as did the substance of the charges. Ultimately, the picture was of confusion.

This all leaves the impression that both prosecution and press took the easy way out. The U.S. attorney levied serious charges, but then took a cash settlement, and ultimately did not enforce the law. The newspaper did not publish enough details about the case so that readers could discern what the settlement really meant.

It is not surprising that we are experiencing a disintegration of public norms and values if our justice system and free press do not vigorously press to maintain them.

Peter L. Murray