The organization providing Medicaid services in Jefferson and surrounding counties has spent lavishly on such things as travel, meals, salaries, bonuses and lobbying in recent years, the state auditor’s office said in a report released Tuesday.
The scathing report, which Gov. Steve Beshear described as 'disheartening,' said two Passport Health Plan officials — Executive Vice President Shannon Turner and Associate Vice President Nici Gaines — were paid well, ate well and traveled extensively.
'Lodgings were often luxury spas and resorts,' the report said. 'The executives used limousine services and dined at expensive restaurants. While these types of expenditures may be routine for many private, for-profit companies, they should not be typical in nonprofit, health care organizations.'
The report also said Passport made extraordinary efforts to burnish its public image and gain political support by spending $1 million since 2007 on lobbying and public relations, as well as $423,000 in donations and sponsorships.
Many of the donations had no connection with health care, the report said — including $600 to sponsor a reception for the Senate Republican majority in 2009, $10,000 to sponsor an 'inflatable character' for the Kentucky Derby Festival's Pegasus Parade, and contributions to the Boy Scouts, Kentucky Opera, Volunteers of America and others.
Here are some more specifics about amounts spent:
Travel: Passport spent $106,722 on more than 36 trips including trips to conferences at resorts in New Orleans, Key West, Las Vegas, Seattle, Philadelphia, Tucson, Washington and Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.
Meals: Spent $72,994 on 753 meals for groups large and small. These were mostly at Louisville restaurants but included tabs at some famous restaurants outside Kentucky, such as Emeril's and Commander's Palace in New Orleans.
Limo services: Five uses of limos totaling $3,996.
Lobbying and public relations: Spent $1 million.
Donations and sponsorships: Spent $423,000, some with no connection to health care, including $10,000 to be an “Inflatable Character Sponsor” for the Kentucky Derby Festival.
Gifts: Spent $9,311 for 95 gifts, which included flowers and Christmas gifts.
Salaries: Paid salary and bonuses of $303,750 to Executive Vice President Shannon Turner and $156, 000 to Associate Vice President Nici Gaines in most recent year.
Here are more specifics about conflicts of interest:
Conflicts of interest: Both Turner and Gaines received additional compensation in contracts with subcontractor they were overseeing, AmeriHealth Mercy. Also, Larry Cook, Passport's chairman and CEO, had divided loyalties because he serves as an executive vice president of U of L. He also was reimbursed $1,717 by AmeriHealth for expenses for a trip to Ireland in 2007.
Grants: Many grants were made by Passport to groups with ties to staff and/or board members
The organization also was charged with distributing additional funds to area health providers based on their initial investment in the not-for-profit managed care organization, but not on the amount of care they were providing to Medicaid patients:
[State Senator Tim] Shaughnessy was particularly concerned about distributions of $10 million in excess funds in late 2008 and again in and 2009 to the large Jefferson County health-care providers that formed Passport.
These distributions were reported to the Kentucky Department of Insurance as grants to cover indigent care costs incurred by Passport's provider partners — University Medical Center, University Physician Associates, Norton Healthcare, Jewish Hospital and St. Mary's Healthcare, and the Louisville/Jefferson County Primary Care Association.
But the auditor’s report said the money was distributed based on the percentage of the providers' initial investments to create Passport — not the amount of indigent care they provided. And the report said this money was placed in the general funds of these providers 'rather than specifically set aside for uncompensated indigent care.'
Finally, it appears that Passport tried to block disclosure of important information, including the compensation of its executives, even though it is a not-for-profit organization entirely funded by the government:
Early this year The Courier-Journal filed a request under the state open records law seeking Passport records on compensation of its executives and minutes of its board meetings. But Passport refused to release them, claiming that the law did not apply.
The attorney general's office disagreed, saying that Passport is 100 percent publicly funded and must release the records. But Passport again refused and took the matter to Jefferson Circuit Court, where it is pending.
So again we have the same tiresome features of leaders who apparently regard their organization as their own personal sandbox: lavish compensation, given the context, luxuries supplied the leadership out of organizational funds, conflicts of interest that apparently increased further the leaders' personal gains, and attempts to keep the whole thing secret. As a Lexington (Kentucky) Herald-Leader editorial ("Living High Life on Money to Treat the Poor") noted, given the mission of the organization, this sort of sleaze is particularly unfortunate:
In one way, though, Passport's profligacy deserves special condemnation. Every dollar Passport executives spent on their own pleasurable pursuits, on lobbying to insure tax money kept flowing their way, on buying goodwill in the Louisville area or on any other unnecessary expense was a dollar taken away from providing Medicaid services to the most vulnerable, needy members of society.This case resembles one we discussed previously, that of the non-profit community health agency in Florida whose leaders again seemed to regard their job as an opportunity for personal enrichment. It seems that even leaders of non-profit organizations whose mission is to help the needy may seem to put their own needs before those of their disadvantaged constituents. Of course, given they may have seen leaders of not-for-profit universities and hospital systems making millions, and leaders of for-profit pharmaceutical, device, and especially managed care organizations/ health insurers making tens of millions, and conclude that their six-figure salaries and occasional luxuries were barely adequate compensation.
As we have noted before, the "executives take all" mentality of an era economically dominated by financiers as aristocrats seems to have infected health care. Somehow we have to restore the idea that executives and managers like doctors and nurses, should regard their work as calling meant to put the needs of patients and public health first, rather than a quick way to get rich.