This story was co-published with The Dallas Morning Information.
The rating member of the Senate well being committee has complained for months concerning the Trump administration’s failure to look into Medicaid contractors which have reaped massive earnings whereas typically failing to supply essential affected person providers.
So final week, Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., referred to as within the high boss of Centene, the nation’s largest Medicaid managed care firm. He needed to query the corporate about studies that its Texas subsidiary denied life-sustaining care to sick and disabled youngsters — in a single case, leaving a child in foster care to endure a catastrophic mind damage.
The assembly with longtime Centene CEO Michael Neidorff didn’t go properly, in line with Casey.
“I believed they’d attempt to persuade me that they have been going to do higher, however they didn’t appear all for that in any respect,” Casey informed ProPublica and The Dallas Morning Information in an interview. “I simply couldn’t imagine it.”
Casey mentioned the Centene official denied offering insufficient care and forged blame for failures on foster dad and mom and nurses.
Centene declined to make Neidorff out there for an interview and emailed a short assertion in response to questions concerning the assembly with Casey.
“Centene and its subsidiaries care deeply about each member we serve,” the e-mail learn. “We work tirelessly to make sure we offer the suitable stage of look after our members.”
Below Neidorff, Centene has grown from a tiny well being community within the Midwest right into a $60-billion-a-year well being care empire, backed virtually totally with taxpayer cash. The corporate cares for greater than 8.5 million Medicaid sufferers.
The corporate got here underneath criticism final yr after an eight-part investigation printed within the Morning Information examined whether or not Centene and different Medicaid managed care corporations have been skimping on care to bolster earnings. The sequence raised questions on Centene’s Texas subsidiary, Superior HealthPlan, and its dealing with of the case of D’ashon Morris, a Texas toddler who was born with extreme defects and was dwelling in a foster residence.
The sequence, titled “Ache & Revenue,” reported that D’ashon was denied 24/7 nursing care and suffered mind injury after a medical incident that occurred whereas he didn’t have his nurse round. (Learn the full story right here.)
The Morning Information reported that state well being officers had discovered the Centene subsidiary in violation of state and federal Medicaid guidelines and really useful the corporate face steep fines for what occurred to the kid. However high Texas well being officers by no means assessed these fines, the Morning Information reported.
D’ashon’s adoptive mom sued the Centene subsidiary in Texas state courtroom. That case is tied up within the Texas appeals courtroom, the place the Centene subsidiary has argued that the lawsuit must be dismissed as a result of D’ashon and his mom are stifling the corporate’s proper to free speech.
Throughout hearings within the state Capitol, Superior representatives denied that the corporate’s refusal to supply 24/7 nursing was improper.
After his assembly with the Centene official, Casey despatched a strongly worded letter to Seema Verma, a former well being marketing consultant appointed by President Donald Trump to run the Facilities for Medicare and Medicaid Companies.
Within the letter, Casey referred to as Centene’s response to questions on D’ashon’s case “callous.”
He additionally requested Medicaid officers to dig additional into Centene’s enterprise practices and to supply documentation on any response to the Morning Information investigation.
“It’s one other indication that the regulatory strategy right here by the administration is, at greatest, suspect,” Casey mentioned.
A CMS spokesman mentioned that Texas officers have shared with the company an “motion plan they meant to take to handle the issues raised,” including that CMS is in common communication to make sure the state improves.
“CMS has obtained Sen. Casey’s letter and can reply to his workplace instantly,” spokesman Brian Leshak mentioned in an electronic mail.
Casey’s place as the highest Democrat on two Senate panels overseeing federal well being applications offers him the standing to lift questions concerning the Medicaid managed care system.
It’s commonplace for firm officers dealing with a federal audit or investigation to fulfill with members of Congress to handle issues, however it’s uncommon for such conferences to spill into public view.
Casey mentioned he despatched the letter to CMS due to what he referred to as Centene’s “chilly and scientific” protection of what occurred in D’ashon’s case. He mentioned it gave him concern about how the corporate cares for different sufferers — and what, if something, regulators are doing when issues go incorrect.
Final month, greater than a yr after the Morning Information story was printed, Centene officers supplied Casey’s workplace with a one-page rebuttal titled: “The Dallas Morning Information acquired it incorrect.”
The corporate’s explanations embrace that D’ashon’s foster mom was a educated nurse. However, because the Morning Information reported, she was on an permitted trip on the time of D’ashon’s damage, and he had been positioned in a unique foster residence.
The corporate additionally mentioned D’ashon’s foster mom ought to have restrained the child, however the Morning Information beforehand reported that Texas foster care officers confirmed restraints would have required a physician’s order, which she didn’t have.
“It was all blame shifting and pointing to different elements,” Casey mentioned of Centene’s letter.
Casey mentioned the assembly left him questioning why federal regulators weren’t doing extra.
“It’d even be worse than asleep on the wheel,” he mentioned of CMS underneath Verma’s watch.
“They could be awake on the wheel however selecting consciously to say, ‘We’re going the opposite path.’”
With out commenting on particular circumstances, the CMS spokesman mentioned the company routinely screens states and intervenes when obligatory.
Issues with this privatized Medicaid mannequin have grabbed headlines in different states, too. And advocates in these states mentioned they haven’t heard a lot from CMS, which they are saying is a shift from the Obama administration.
In Iowa, as an example, The Des Moines Register reported failures to supply care and chronicled sufferers who had been caught in that state’s damaged medical appeals system.
Rob Sand, Iowa’s state auditor, wrote to state officers in June that two giant managed care corporations had “considerably harmed” two paraplegic sufferers by refusing to supply providers they wanted.
Mary Nelle Trefz, of Iowa’s Youngster and Household Coverage Middle, mentioned she’s been shocked to listen to nothing about that from CMS.
“I don’t really feel, or can’t observe, or level to something, the place CMS has stepped in to supply that oversight and accountability,” she mentioned.
In March, California’s state auditor discovered that hundreds of thousands of kids in that state’s privatized Medicaid system weren’t being supplied providers that taxpayers had paid for. Auditor Elaine Howle blamed California well being officers’ “poor oversight of the managed care plans.”
Andy Schneider, a researcher at Georgetown’s Middle for Kids and Households, and a former high adviser to CMS underneath the Obama administration, mentioned these episodes come at an inconvenient time for the Trump administration, which is targeted on lowering regulation and creating extra eligibility hurdles like work necessities.
CMS has taken a hands-off strategy in contrast with the earlier administration, he mentioned.
“These are studies coming from respected media sources,” he mentioned. “They’re very regarding, they need to do with the operation of this system, they recommend that one thing is incorrect.”