Health behemoth Centene has donated over $300k to Mississippi politicians since 2019 [Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Tupelo] – Insurance News Net

Feb. 20—JACKSON — While two state agencies were investigating one of the state’s largest Medicaid contractors for ripping off taxpayers, that very same organization showered Mississippi’s elected officials with hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations.
A Daily Journal review of public campaign filings with the Secretary of State’s office show that Centene donated a total of $319,500 over the past three years to 98 of the state’s 174 lawmakers and five of eight statewide officials — a sizable amount in a state like Mississippi.
The substantial extent of donations the health care giant injected into Mississippi’s political system raises new questions about the intent behind the company’s contributions, the power it wields in Jackson and what role the money is playing in the political process.
A spokesperson for Magnolia Health, the Mississippi subsidiary of the organization, told the Daily Journal in a statement that the company’s campaign contributions are “completely divorced” from the Mississippi Division of Medicaid’s process for choosing which companies receive state contracts.
Magnolia Health, like all other managed care organizations in the state, participates in the political process by donating to candidates of both parties,” the spokesperson said. “Our contributions are designed to support a robust political environment in our state and those who we believe advocate for sound public policy healthcare decisions.”
What was the Centene investigation about?
Mississippi’s Medicaid managed care system, MississippiCAN, provides health insurance benefits for about 480,000 poor adults and children, disabled people, pregnant women, and others.
The Division of Medicaid pays Magnolia Health and two other contractors a set rate per patient to administer those benefits.
But State Auditor Shad White inked an agreement in April 2019 with Ridgeland-based law firm Liston and Deas to help investigate if the company was over-inflating its bills to the state Medicaid division, as previously reported by the Daily Journal.
The investigation by the outside attorneys, White and Attorney General Lynn Fitch centered on one portion of the managed care system: pharmacy benefit managers.
These subcontractors, known as PBMs, serve as middlemen between insurance companies, drugmakers and pharmacies. They manage drug benefits, negotiate drug prices and reimburse pharmacists on behalf of companies like Magnolia Health.
The company settled with the state in June 2021 for $55.5 million. The company did not admit any wrongdoing in the agreement, and the state said the company was providing quality health services.
But during the period the organization was being scrutinized for its billing practices, it unloaded a trove of dollars on some of the state’s top politicians.
Reeves, Chaney, Gunn top recipients of Centene money
The Mississippi official who raked in the most money from Centene the past three years is Republican Gov. Tate Reeves at $60,000. The Mississippi Division of Medicaid, which oversees the implementation of the state’s Medicaid program, is under the office of the governor.
Reeves, through a spokesperson, did not respond to a request for comment.
The elected official who received the second largest amount of money from the company is Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney, who regulates insurance companies, at $50,000.
“The campaign donations were not solicited and what was received has since been donated,” Chaney said in a statement. “The Mississippi Insurance Department has no involvement with Medicaid.”
The elected official who received the third largest amount from Centene over the past three years is House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, at $30,000.
Gunn told the Daily Journal that in no way have the campaign donations influenced his vote on Medicaid policy. Gunn said he deposited the donation checks into his campaign account before the Centene investigation was ever made public.
“I accept donations from lots of organizations,” Gunn told the Daily Journal.
Gunn also voted for a recent legislative proposal to void Centene’s contract.
Other elected officials who received donations from Centene are:
— Rep. Jason White, R-West: $20,000
— Sen. Dean Kirby, R-Pearl: $15,000
— Rep. Sam Mims V, R-McComb: $15,000
— Sen. Walter Michel, R-Madison: $10,000
— Rep. Trey Lamar, R-Senatobia: $10,000
— Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory: $5,000
— Sen. Kevin Blackwell, R-Southaven: $5,000
— Rep Joey Hood, R-Ackerman $5,000
— Rep. John Read, R-Gautier: $5,000
Politicians commonly accept donations from interest groups and lobbyists. Other managed care organizations such as Anthem and Molina also donate to politicians.Steve Holland, a former Northeast Mississippi lawmaker who crafted the Division of Medicaid’s budget for several years, has bemoaned the state’s managed care system. Still, he cautioned the public from judging rank-and-file legislators too harshly for accepting donations.
“Heck, I would go out to dinner with people and groups I absolutely couldn’t stand just to drink their $200 bottle of wine,” Holland said. “But I would get up the next morning and still vote against them.”
Lawmakers sought Division of Medicaid advice on Centene contract
The reporting of Centene’s financial power comes at a time when the Legislature is considering passing legislation that would ban companies who have settled with states over over-payment allegations from doing business in Mississippi. Campaign finance reports for 2021 giving to state elected officials were due to the Secretary of State by Jan. 31.
The House on Feb. 10 passed a bill that would prohibit the Mississippi Division of Medicaid from contracting with a managed care company that has settled over $50 million with a state. The idea for after Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, authored an amendment
House leadership initially held the amended bill on a motion to reconsider, meaning debate could still happen on the legislation or it could die on the calendar.
Gunn told the Daily Journal that his and House leadership’s decision to hold the bill for further consideration should not be construed as an attempt to kill it after being influenced by donations. The Clinton Republican said leadership held the bill to try and analyze what the contents of the amendment would actually mean because Currie did not let anyone know about the amendment before she introduced it.
Public documents appear to confirm the speaker’s rationale for holding the bill for consideration.
The Daily Journal through a public records request obtained a text message that House Medicaid Chairman Joey Hood sent to Drew Snyder, the executive director of the Mississippi Division of Medicaid, to discuss the merits of the amendment.
“Drew, good speaking with you today on Rep. Currie’s amendment to HB 658,” Hood wrote in the text message on Feb. 11. “I look forward to receiving input and analysis from the Division regarding any adverse effects on the Medicaid program in the event (the) bill is passed in current form.”
The legislation is now before the Senate Medicaid Committee for consideration. The committee conducted a hearing on the bill on Thursday where Snyder told the legislators that if they adopted the amendment it would be chaotic and hazardous for the Medicaid system.
Centene spends over $1 million on lobbying efforts
While the Senate is deliberating what it should do about the Centene bill, the company has retained some of Jackson’s most prominent lobbyists to advocate on their behalf.
In addition to the campaign donations, Centene for the past three years has paid Clare Hester and Henry Barbour of Capitol Resources around $1.2 million, according to records with the Secretary of State’s office.
Whatever the Senate decides to do with the legislation, Holland encouraged lawmakers to study the merits of the bill and try to work out something transformative and experimental for the state instead of just, “selling out to Centene.”
Holland said lawmakers could explore starting a pilot program with hospitals managing Medicaid benefits in certain areas or conducting more hearings to evaluate the managed care system.
“But money rules at the Capitol now more than it ever has,” Holland lamented.
The deadline for the Senate committee to pass the Medicaid bill that would void Centene’s contract is March 1.
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(c)2022 the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal (Tupelo, Miss.)
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