WellCare Health Plans on Wednesday admitted to making 129 'questionable' contributions to Florida politicians over four years ending in 2007. In a consent order with the Florida Elections Commission, the Tampa-based managed-care company agreed to pay a $120,000 fine and did not contest the commission's finding of probable cause that the contributions violated state law.
The Associated Press reported in February that WellCare, its subsidiaries and executives spent $2.4 million in political contributions in the 2004 and 2006 elections. More than 95 percent went to Republicans, who pushed a plan to send more state and federal Medicaid spending through private companies like WellCare.
In May, 2009 we posted about WellCare's submission to a deferred prosecution agreemeent based on charges that it defrauded state programs by inflating its expenses. In 2007, we posted about how the state of Connecticut stopped WellCare from running a plan for poor children after the company refused to reveal what it was paying physicians, and why it was failing to pay for particular services. So WellCare has paid three penalties for three different kinds of unethical behavior in the last two years.
WellCare is one of numerous health care organizations which seem to be serial violators of reasonable ethical norms. Usually, however, the penalties paid for these behaviors are trivial, given the financial capacities of the offending organizations. Furthermore, rarely are the individuals who made the decisions that caused the behaviors identified, much less subjected to negative consequences.
Given our continued permissiveness towards all sorts of deception, dishonesty, cheating, and even outright fraud, bribery, and corruption, is it any wonder that the unethical behavior continues? Such behavior doubtless directly drives up costs. Furthermore, leaders focused on their personal power and enrichment may not lead well, and demoralize employees and professionals who want to do the right thing, leading to further cost increases, access decrements, and threats to health care quality. I submit that to truly reform health care, and have a chance at improving cost, quality, and access, we cannot continue to shrug off these sorts of ethical violations.
A postscript - as we have noted before, one member of the WellCare board of directors is Regina Herzlinger, a well known and prolific health policy expert, and holds the Nancy R. McPherson Professor of Business Administration Chair of the Harvard Business School. As far as I know, Prof Herzlinger is one of the many health policy experts who avoids discussing the sorts of problems with the accountability, integrity, and transparency of health care leadership which is grist for the mill here at Health Care Renewal. Perhaps, Prof Herzlinger, like many other main stream health policy experts, should learn to acknowledge that health care leadership may be unaccountable, opaque, dishonest, and sometimes flagrantly corrupt. Furthermore, Prof Herzlinger, like many other well-paid board members of health care organization, should pay a bit more attention to the mischief being committed by those who answer to her.