Cabinet leader says Passport's lobbyists might have blinded lawmakers to flaws

12/08/2010 07:48 PM

The top official in Kentucky’s health cabinet said the cadre of lobbyists hired by the Passport Health Plan might have influenced lawmakers enough to blind them from potential warning signs about the program.

Janie Miller, the secretary of the Health and Family Services Cabinet, said the administration was “concerned” that the number of lobbying firms Passport was paying pushed lawmakers to propose legislation that would expand that managed care program.

In effect, Miller sought to turn the tables on lawmakers, some of whom had grilled her in recent committee hearings about a lack of oversight of the Passport program.

Passport, founded 13 years ago by five hospital systems in Louisville, covers medical care for the 164,000 poor and disabled Kentuckians in Louisville and 15 surrounding counties. The state’s Medicaid program pays Passport, a non-profit entity, nearly $800 million a year to provide those services.

A state auditor’s report last month criticized Passport’s leaders for allowing excessive spending on travel and on a host of lobbying firms, among other issues.

Miller said the lobbying firms didn’t affect the cabinet’s oversight of the contract with Passport.

“I don’t believe they had any influence on the cabinet’s actions,” she said.

Lawmakers, led by Senate President David Williams, have roundly criticized the cabinet for renewing the contract with Passport without knowing the true costs of what it takes to cover the health costs for Passport patients.

Miller sat down for the interview forĀ Pure Politics after Passport leaders announced the firing of two executives, Nici Gaines and Shannon Turner on Tuesday — but before the Passport board approved other changes, such as Larry Cook stepping down as chairman of the board.

Miller said part of the reason the cabinet wasn’t aware of the spending on travel and lobbyists was because Passport didn’t disclose those as line items — and the cabinet didn’t ask for them.

“The way in which the data was reported was not detailed enough to determine certain types of excessive spending,” Miller said.

She said the 7%-8% administrative costs that Passport reported didn’t raise any alarms with the cabinet because “managed care entities around the country would generally expend that kind of expense.”

Miller also said she doesn’t know whether Passport, as a non-profit entity, could give three $10 million payments back to the five founding hospitals that created Passport 13 years ago.

Part 1 of the interview:

Part 2 of the interview:

- Ryan Alessi

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