Tax-funded care provider in Ohio makes political donations — in Nevada

By: - November 7, 2022 4:45 am

The Centene Corporation headquarters. Photo from Google Maps.

Medicaid managed-care provider Centene has already gotten in trouble in Ohio. Then on Friday came the news that its tax-funded Ohio subsidiary has been making political contributions 2,200 miles away in Nevada.

Kaiser Health News reported that Centene’s Buckeye Health Plan and many other of its state-level Medicaid subsidiaries have each made $10,000 donations to the reelection campaign of Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat.

“Centene had already sealed Medicaid deals in Nevada through its SilverSummit subsidiary — yet a potential new line of business was on the horizon,” the story said. “Sisolak, who is up for reelection Nov. 8, had just approved a new public health plan option that would later open up to bidding from contractors such as SilverSummit.”

In making such contributions, Centene might be seen as buying influence with officials who have the power to award contracts worth billions to the company. But in an email, a spokesperson said that it’s supporting officials who “advocate for sound public policy health care decisions.”

“As a national health care company providing government-sponsored health care programs in all 50 states, Centene participates in the political process by donating to candidates of both parties and is supportive of incumbents,” the email said. “Given the size and scale of the company, we partner with states across the country to help improve quality of care and access to services for the communities we serve.” 

The Centene spokesperson added, “Our contributions are intended to serve as support to those who advocate for sound public policy health care decisions, which is evident by our nearly equal support of candidates from both parties. Each state is unique, and we follow all local, state and federal laws and disclosures for our contributions and record all contributions from our Political Action Committee.”

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How sound of a public policy it was for the Ohio Department of Medicaid to rehire Centene’s Buckeye last year might be a matter of opinion. The department awarded the company a contract worth billions just six months after the state sued it, claiming it had defrauded the Medicaid program of millions of dollars.

As a managed-care provider, Buckeye signs up Medicaid patients and contracts with providers such as doctors and dentists to care for them. 

It also hires pharmacy benefit managers to manage their prescription-drug transactions. In Buckeye’s case, it hired CVS Caremark to do that work, but it also hired two Centene-owned pharmacy benefit managers as well. 

Reporting in 2018 by The Columbus Dispatch revealed that the Centene PBMs and CVS were providing identically named services at a cost that was far higher than under other managed-care providers. For their part, the companies claimed there were technical differences in what they were doing. 

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost sued Centene in 2021, accusing its PBMs of improper practices such as pocketing pharmacy dispensing fees and wildly marking up drug costs. It pocketed $400,000 in a single week in 2018 from the latter practice, the suit said.

Just three months after Yost filed the suit, Centene agreed to pay $88.3 million to settle it and set aside more than $1 billion to settle similar claims in other states. Centene has been adamant that it admits no wrongdoing in any of its settlements.

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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.