8-6-14 – Into the Frying Pan

By Randy Brock

It’s far too early to celebrate the Shumlin Administration’s belated firing of CGI, the contractor responsible for flubbing Vermont’s dysfunctional healthcare exchange.

That’s because CGI’s designated successor, hired under yet another no-bid contract, is a company whose dubious origins raise even greater concerns.

The company is OptumInsight, a subsidiary of insurance giant UnitedHealth Group. Optum, was awarded a $5.6 million no-bid contract to clean up some of the mess left by CGI in the wake of the Vermont Health Connect meltdown. Now, reportedly, the state is in the final process of negotiating another multimillion dollar contract with Optum to complete the work left undone by CGI.

The problem is the Optum may not be exactly what it seems. That’s because just three years ago, the company wasn’t named Optum at all. Until its name change in June 2011, Optum was called Ingenix Inc. Ingenix’s claim to fame came from being charged by New York State Attorney General (and now Governor) Andrew Cuomo with a massive fraud. According to the attorney general, Ingenix engaged in “a scheme to defraud consumers” by systematically causing insurers using its databases to overbill the nation’s patients by hundreds of millions of dollars for more than a decade. The databases in question were used by insurance companies to calculate the local “usual and customary charges” that insurers would pay.

What’s particularly significant is that the attorney general alleged that this was not an error, but a deliberate scheme designed, in a system ripe with conflicts of interest, to benefit, among others, Ingenix’s corporate parent UnitedHealth.

According to the attorney general, the scheme allegedly worked like this: “Insurers knew most simple doctor visits cost $200, but claimed to their members the typical rate was only $77. The insurers then applied the contractual reimbursement rate of 80%, covering only $62 for a $200 bill, and leaving the patient to cover the $138 balance.”

By relying on Ingenix’s data, most major insurance companies, including UnitedHealth, CIGNA and Aetna as well as the Federal employees’ insurance system and TRICARE serving military families, reimbursed patients less than they were due, leaving consumers across the country with hundreds of millions of dollars in higher out-of-pocket expense. In Vermont, in addition to CIGNA, MVP used Ingenix’s data. It is unclear if Blue Cross was involved.

A 2009 investigation by the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation reached the same conclusion as Cuomo. “This is outrageous at any time, but especially as families all throughout our country are doing everything they can to make ends meet in this economy — this is despicable,” committee chair Senator Jay Rockefeller (D, WV) said in a written statement.

Ingenix settled the New York fraud charges by agreeing to pay $50 million to have its database replaced by one set up and run by a new independent data provider. Ingenix neither admitted nor denied that it engaged in fraud.

In addition to the New York State investigation, numerous suits against the company and against insurers who used its data were filed all over the country. In 2009, in what was reported by the American Medical Association as the largest monetary settlement ever made over payments by a single insurer, UnitedHealth Group paid $350 million to customers and medical providers to settle the Ingenix litigation.

The Optum story is eerily reminiscent of CGI’s history, which involved the acquisition of a company that had a massive $474.5 million dollar judgment for botching a Mississippi government contract and then paid $5 million to settle litigation from the Federal Thrift Investment Board. It was also the subject of a US Senate inquiry into four years of delays and cost overruns. CGI’s federal subsidiary was accused in a 2011 whistleblower suit of initiating a scheme to defraud the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. CGI denied the allegation and the suit is still pending.

All of this begs the question: Did the Shumlin Administration know about Optum’s troubled background and, despite it, allow Vermont to enter into a multi-million dollar no-bid contract with a company that paid hundreds of millions of dollars to settle accusations of a massive fraud? Or worse, were officials completely unaware of the company’s troubled history at all?

Either way, with the Ingenix successor, OptumInsight, charged with “fixing” the dysfunctional Vermont Health Connect website, consumers may want to grab a bottle of aspirin and then scrutinize every health insurance bill they get with a calculator close at hand.

–  Randy Brock is a principal at Rockledge Risk Advisors LLC. He is a former Vermont State Auditor and State Senator and was the 2012 Republican nominee for Governor. He is also a Certified Fraud Examiner. 

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Peg August 8, 2014 at 4:29 pm

We have endured yet another disastrous year of “bone headed” laws and regulations voted on and passed by the most Socialist/Marxist legislature in Vermont history, inflicted on the citizens of Vermont with “good stuff” yet to come. Hasn’t anyone noticed all the “For Sale” signs in ALL our towns and cities??
Who will pay for the massive “I want it NOW and I want the best…” when the businesses and wage earners leave?
I recently talked to an auctioneer who said he is doing whole house cleanouts; one and sometimes as many as four houses a day, every day. He told me there is a mass exodus from VT and away from the taxes and high cost of living.
I am convinced that if Montpelier could figure out how to take all our money and assets and give us back what they “think” we should have, they would do it. What are they going to do when they run out of other people’s money and stuff?
How much are you going to let them take from you before you have had enough?
We have endured another year of “bone-head,” but for how many more can Vermont endure?

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Jim Bulmer August 8, 2014 at 9:32 pm

If the Gov. weren’t throwing my money into another rat hole, his governance or lack thereof would be hilarious, BUT “taint funny McGee”. The guy is an absolute loser, and guess what, Vemonters will send him to Washington to replace good ole Pat when he retires. WAKE UP voters!!!!!!!

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Jim Bulmer August 8, 2014 at 9:48 pm

My wife and I retired to Vermont in 1992 for what we thought would be nervana. Surprise, the folks in Montpelier who over the past twenty years have been picking our pockets to fund their “feel good” schemes which inevitably result in massive unintended consequences, just don’t get it. I read somewhere that the folks in Montpelier are sometimes overwhelmed because they are expected to deal with issues with which they feel unqualified to handle. Yet when a pro such as Wendy Wilton runs for office down country money chases her away. If we had known then what we now know, we would have sttled elsewhere. Unfortunately, we are now well into our 80’s and moving at this late stage is a tough call.

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