By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
On August 24, 2022, managed healthcare company, Centene Corporation, agreed to pay $19 million to the State of Washington to settle fraud allegations. Centene owns and operates Sunshine State Health Plan, d/b/a Sunshine Health, in Florida. In addition, it has been reported that Centene/Sunshine Health reportedly has over $31 billion in contracts with the state of Florida alone. Click here to learn more.
The agreement with Washington State resolves allegations that it overcharged its Medicaid program for pharmacy benefit management services, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced in a press release.
Under the deal, in addition to the $19 million payment to Washington State, the federal government will receive $13.3 million related to the settlement, according to the Attorney General's office. In addition, a whistleblower who sued the company on behalf of the state will also receive $1 million. It is the second-largest Medicaid fraud settlement in Washington's history.
An Investigation and a Whistleblower.
According to the press release, the Washington AG's office began investigating pharmacy benefit managers in 2019 after a whistleblower said the company failed to disclose actual pharmacy benefits and service costs. Furthermore, Centene allegedly failed to pass on discounts it received to the state Medicaid program, causing inflated fees, according to the release.
Washington sued Centene in July 2022, alleging the company and a subsidiary, Coordinated Care of Washington, violated the state's Medicaid False Claims Act. Coordinated Care of Washington contracts with Washington's Health Care Authority to manage its Medicaid program, Apple Health.
Shelling Out Big Bucks For Settlements.
Centene did not admit to any wrongdoing in this case, as is usual with settlement agreements. "This no-fault agreement reflects the significance we place on addressing their concerns and our ongoing commitment to making healthcare delivery local, simple and transparent," Centene's spokesperson said.
But, while denying any wrongdoing, it has settled claims over similar alleged conduct in ten other states for more than $260 million. Additionally, it said last year that it was still in negotiations with more states and had set aside $1.25 billion to settle such claims. Click here to learn more.
To view the settlement agreement in full, click here.
Similar Patterns of Misconduct?
We need to ask: "Is this the business model of Centene and its different owned subsidiary companies?" We note that on March 22, 2022, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) assessed civil monetary penalties (CMP) against Centene Corporation for similar alleged wrongful activities involving the states of California, South Carolina, Texas, Ohio, Michigan, and others. And in a letter dated March 11, 2022, the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration issued a $9.1 million fine over Centene/Sunshine Health's improper failure to pay benefits to Florida's neediest, sick children. We have not found any report that Centene challenged or appealed either government penalty.
When multiple billions of dollars in government contracts are handed out to one contractor, and it is the subject of so many allegedly wrongful acts, one must ask if it is just treating such penalties and fines as the routine costs of doing business. Considering that $9.1 million is less than three (3) hundredths of a percent (.0003) of its $31 billion in contracts with the state of Florida, this cost may not even be significant enough for it to post on its profit ad loss statements.
Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Medicare and Medicaid Audits, Healthcare Audits, and Insurance Payment Disputes.
The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent counselors, therapists, physicians, healthcare providers and healthcare facilities in defense of Medicare and Medicaid audits, audits by insurance companies and managed care, and demands for repayment of overpayments. They represent healthcare providers in audits, audit appeals and repayment disputes against Centene Corporation and Sunshine Sate Health Plan d/b/a Sunshine Health. They also represent healthcare providers in defense against allegations of false billing, overbilling, False Claims Act violations and civil monetary penalties (CMP).
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Redmond, Nell. "Centene to pay $33.3 million to settle Washington Medicaid fraud claims." Reuters. (August 25, 2022). Web.
Elletson, Grace. "Centene Strikes $33M Deal To End Wash. Medicaid Fraud Suit." Law360. (September 2, 2022). Web.
Health Law Weekly. "Centene Will Pay $19 Million to Resolve Medicaid Fraud Allegations." AHLA. (September 2, 2022). Web.
About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave. Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620
Attorney Positions with The Health Law Firm. The Health Law Firm is always looking for qualified attorneys interested in the practice of health law. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. If you are a member of The Florida Bar and are interested, forward a cover letter and your resume to: PAlexander@TheHealthLawFirm.com or fax to: (407) 331-3030.
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