Metro area clergy unite against Medica withdrawal, demand public health care solution

The following article by Gabby Landsverk was posted on the Sun-Sailor website January 12, 2017:

Letter to CEO prompts a future meeting about ‘people over profits’

Clergy members and faith leaders from across the metro area have come together in penning a letter to Hopkins-based Medica, expressing concern for the corporation’s withdrawal from the state’s prepaid medical assistance program and the potential impact the withdrawal could have on low-income enrollees.

The Thursday morning organized protest, at the company’s building at 401 Carlson Parkway, was part of the efforts of Isaiah, a group dedicated to helping Minnesota’s faith leaders work for racial and economic equality.

“Medica is part of the problem in Minnesota and across the country,” said Rev. Grant Stevensen of Isaiah.
The letter, addressed to Medica CEO David Tilford and Chairman of the Board John Buck, detailed Medica’s upheaval of the health care system as a result of its conduct in competitive bidding.
“We are writing to express our concern and disappointment with the conduct of your company and the impact that has on hundreds of thousands of vulnerable Minnesotans,” the letter states. “The reality is that corporate interests such as yours are culpable for creating the extreme mess of our health care system.”

The letter follows Medica’s announcement late last year that it would withdraw from the state’s Minnesota Families & Children Medicaid program after unsuccessfully requesting an increase its contract amount from the state.

In 2015, Medica submitted a low bid to the state, replacing UCare to become the provider for prepaid medical assistance program, or PMAP. As a result, an estimated 360,000 former UCare enrollees had to switch insurance providers.

In December 2016, Medica then announced that its previous bid was not “actuarially sound” and the cost of providing the care exceeded the bid Medica had provided, causing significant losses as a result of its coverage. The corporation then attempted to renegotiate an increase in payment, which the state denied. Medica subsequently announced that it would withdraw from PMAP, leaving program enrollees without coverage when the contract ends April 30.

“Over 312,000 Minnesotans — all of whom are low-income, many of whom are poor, children and pregnant women, as well as people struggling with mental illness — among what Jesus called ‘the least of these’ will be forced to change their health insurance plan as a result of Medica’s withdrawal,” the clergy letter reads. “Many will lose access to the doctors and hospitals of their choice. Most will face additional agony of confusion and frustration with navigating complex systems.”

The letter calls out Medica for holding a reserve of nearly a $1 billion dollars, and paying extravagant salaries, including $2,331,860 to its CEO in 2015, while retracing its own “unrealistically low” bid.

Medica released a statement Dec. 1, 2016, regarding its withdrawal, citing system-wide problems with the Medicaid program and alleging the company would sustain significant losses by accepting the state of Minnesota’s final offer for the PMAP program.
“While serving Medicaid enrollees is an important part of who Medica is, we cannot risk our ability to serve one million non-Medicaid members if the entire organization is at risk,” the statement reads.

It also added that Medica had attempted negotiations with state official regarding the contract.
“Medica has in good faith been negotiating the reimbursement we receive from the Minnesota Department of Human Services. … We had hoped to work with the State toward solutions that are agreeable to all parties,” the statement continued.

Medica representatives added that the corporation had lost $150 million in 2016 as a result of changes in the Medicaid population.

Senior Pastor Mark Vinge, of House of Hope Lutheran Church in New Hope, said Medica was conducting a “shell game” by promising millions of dollars in savings with its low bid, and later determining the amount was unsustainable, requesting additional reimbursement from the state.

“It’s not about bad math. This is about bad business and bad faith,” Vinge said. “Medica is supposed to be a nonprofit working on behalf of the people it insures, driving up rates and disrupting the entire health care market at the very time that we’re trying to make sure everyone gets covered.”

Associate Pastor Javen Swanson of Gloria Dei Church Lutheran Church in St. Paul said he had heard many personal stories of people impacted by Medica’s actions and said the corporation was trying to drive competitors out of business at the expense of consumers and taxpayers.

“Medica may be a nonprofit organization in theory, but the truth is it is all about the bottom line. And when health care is driven by the bottom line, it stops being about care,” Swanson said.
“This does not reflect the values of our faith communities and it does not reflect the values of the state of Minnesota. We need our corporate citizens to be part of the solution, not part of the problem,” Vinge added.

The clergy members present agreed the solution would be to provide public options for health care.
“Private providers are going to game the system and play fast and loose with people’s health care. We need an alternative,” Swanson said.

“Playing political and economic games with health care is not moral,” added Eric Hoffer, senior pastor for Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in St. Louis Park. “If they must compete, let them compete with the public. Let there be an option for the people that is truly open, comprehensive and affordable. Let there be an option that prioritizes stability. Let there be an option that puts consumers over companies.”

fw19nwmedica2Pastor Eric Hoffer of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in St. Louis Park joined fellows clergy members in speaking out against Medica’s withdrawal from the state’s medical assistance program

Hoffer added the religious communities strive to heal the sick and care for those in need, which includes standing up against the volatility and “brokenness” he said characterizes current insurance practices.
“Healing comes through a health care system, and that system is failing us … this is not okay and cannot continue. Every human has the right to affordable and stable health care. Until that is in place, we will not stop showing up,” Hoffer said.

Pastor Laurie Eaton of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Minneapolis was one of the clergy members that hand-delivered the letter to Medica representatives.
“We expressed our grave concerns with the way Medica has handled its participation in the (health care) exchange. They acknowledged our concerns and said they would like to explain that the perceptions are not completely accurate,” Eaton said.
She informed the group gathered in the parking lot that the corporation had agreed to a meeting with Isaiah clergy members and religious leaders.

Pastor Laurie Eaton of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Minneapolis was one of the clergy members that hand-delivered the letter to Medica representatives.Pastor Laurie Eaton of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Minneapolis was one of the clergy members that hand-delivered the letter to Medica representatives.

Eaton said communications were currently ongoing to establish a meeting between Isaiah representatives and Geoff Bartsh, Medica’s vice president and general manager of state public programs.

In an official statement, Bartsh confirmed that Medica representatives had met with the clergy and have pledged to meet with them for further discussion.
“The decision to withdraw from the State of Minnesota Families & Children Medicaid program was a difficult one for Medica. It has been a part of our business since the program’s inception and we understand the impact it will have on the families it serves,” Bartsh said. “We are committed to a smooth transition to new health insurance coverage for those members.”

The meeting is expected to be scheduled for sometime within the next three weeks, according to Eaton.
“It’s a step in the right direction, but this feud is far from over yet because we are gravely concerned with the people who are vulnerable and at risk and the upheaval that continues to happen in our health care system,” she said. “These are the people that we are called to care for and quite frankly, as a nonprofit service provider, they’re the very same people that Medica is called to care for. When they put profits far above the people they’re supposed to be serving, we have to stand up.”

Although the event was held outside Medica’s building in Hopkins, more than a dozen clergy members were present, facing blowing snow and a windchill of 5 degrees below zero to show their support.
“The weather we’re having today doesn’t compare to the cold heartlessness of forcing 312,000 low-income people to change their health insurance,” Stevenson said.

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