Mississippi House votes to cut ties with provider accused of fraud

Ohio, where the allegations started, gave it a new, giant contract

By: - February 15, 2022 3:40 am

The Centene Corporation headquarters. Photo from Google Maps.

The Mississippi House of Representatives last week voted overwhelmingly to cut ties with a Medicaid provider that last year agreed to pay the state $55 million to settle claims that it fraudulently inflated the cost of prescription drugs.

Ohio is the only state to actually sue over such claims and last year St. Louis-based Centene agreed to pay the Buckeye State $88.3 million. But Ohio is not only continuing to do business with Centene subsidiary Buckeye Health Plan. Last year the Ohio Department of Medicaid gave the company a huge new contract.

The Tupelo, Miss.-based Daily Journal reported that the House of Representatives there on Thursday passed the bill containing the Centene measure. 

“I am for doing away with our business to a company who took $55 million of our money that was supposed to be spent on the poor, the sick, the elderly, the mentally ill, the disabled,” the paper quoted the measure’s author, Rep. Becky Currie, a Republican, as saying.

The news organization Y’all Politics reported that the bill passed the Mississippi House by a 113-4 margin. Currie’s amendment would prohibit the state’s Medicaid department from contracting with any company that is forced to repay $50 million or more, the news organization reported.

No such measure exists in Ohio law.

After a state-sponsored investigation revealed that Centene’s Ohio subsidiary in 2017 seemed to pad its drug bills by $20 million, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost sued the company last March.

Just three months later, Centene announced its settlements with Ohio and Mississippi. They were coming from $1.3 billion Centene was setting aside for settlements with as many as 22 states.

The company has since announced that it’s getting out of the business of managing prescriptions and its long-time CEO announced his retirement.

Last year, the Ohio Department of Medicaid took bids for $22 billion in Medicaid managed-care business as part of a sweeping restructuring. As it did, its evaluators didn’t consider whether companies had been accused of doing wrong in the past.

Centene’s subsidiary got a contract despite the recently settled fraud suit. So did one owned by UnitedHealth Group, even though that company is being sued by the state on claims that it defrauded the Ohio Bureau of Worker’s Compensation of $16 million.

The Medicaid department also awarded a separate, billion-dollar contract for child behavioral care to a CVS subsidiary even though the same report that uncovered Centene’s questionable billing showed that CVS up-charged the Medicaid department by $217 million for prescription drugs in 2017.

In addition, Medicaid Director Maureen Corcoran appeared to own stock in CVS and UnitedHealth at the time she negotiated and signed contracts with their subsidiaries, but she’s refused to disclose how much. An ethics expert last week said such ownership would be a clear conflict of interest for Corcoran.

Centene didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

A spokeswoman for the Medicaid department was asked whether, in light of the vote in the Mississippi House, Ohio Medicaid would reconsider its business with Centene.

“The Ohio Attorney General (AG) investigated the conduct of Centene and reached a final resolution which the AG determined to be fair, reasonable and in the best interest of the people of the State of Ohio,” the spokeswoman, Lisa Lawless, said in an email. “Buckeye achieved the second highest score in Ohio Medicaid’s rigorous procurement.”

Currie, the Mississippi lawmaker trying to dump Centene, sees the company differently.

“They owe everybody, their plan is to not pay you,” Y’all Politics quoted her as saying. “The more they don’t pay you, the more they keep. I just don’t want us to continue to pay providers or managed care companies when they don’t take care of us.”

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Marty Schladen
Marty Schladen

Marty Schladen has been a reporter for decades, working in Indiana, Texas and other places before returning to his native Ohio to work at The Columbus Dispatch in 2017. He's won state and national journalism awards for investigations into utility regulation, public corruption, the environment, prescription drug spending and other matters.

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