CalOptima Will Meet but Avoid Addressing Controversial Issues

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CalOptima, the $1.4-billion county health care system for the poor and elderly, holds its monthly meeting Thursday, but two of its most controversial issues are absent from the agenda.

The board was supposed to meet as long as three weeks ago on one and possibly two investigations being conducted by its compliance officer into allegations of conflicts of interest involving two of its board members.

But according to public records, the meetings never were called, and the issue isn’t on Thursday’s agenda. Mark Refowitz, acting Orange County Health Care Agency director who also is the temporary chairman of CalOptima, didn’t return a phone call on the matter.

The CalOptima board is scheduled to vote today on new officers without resolving the investigations issues, one of which involves the chairman that Refowitz temporarily replaced.

The board’s failure to deal with the investigation after publicly announcing it, mirrors an earlier action by the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

And all of it stems from an anonymous letter sent in February to news reporters, CalOptima board members and members of the Board of Supervisors.

The letter accused Ed Kacic, then chairman of the CalOptima board, of conflict of interest. It also accused board member Mary Anne Foo of accepting pay from the agency while serving on the board. Both immediately denied the allegations, and Kacic has repeatedly urged both CalOptima and the Board of Supervisors to investigate.

The anonymous letter arrived at the Board of Supervisors just as Supervisor Janet Nguyen was reshaping the CalOptima board to give the county and the medical industry more control. The county doesn’t pay any money into the program, but it appoints its board of directors.

When Kacic and other board members came up for reappointment in February, Nguyen and Supervisors Pat Bates and Bill Campbell used the anonymous allegation to delay his reconfirmation, saying they wanted an investigation by the county grand jury to clear his name.

This action was opposed by Chairman of Supervisors John Moorlach and Supervisor Shawn Nelson. Kacic remained on the board, pending the outcome of the investigation.

But the issue never went to the grand jury. Instead, County Counsel Nicholas Chrisos waited nearly two months and then, without stating that the allegations were in dispute, asked the state Fair Political Practices Commission whether the accusations amounted to a conflict of interest. The commission wrote back that it didn’t give advice to third parties.

Since then, the county has apparently done nothing. When a Voice of OC reporter tried to reach Campbell this week, a member of his office staff said Campbell was referring the reporter to Moorlach for comment.

But Moorlach said he had no idea why Campbell wanted him to answer questions about Campbell’s actions. “Why don’t I refer you to Supervisor Nelson?” said Moorlach. “And then he can refer you to Supervisor Bates and she can refer you to Supervisor Nguyen.”

In May, Nguyen completed taking control of CalOptima, and Kacic was removed temporarily as chairman, supposedly for a week or two, while Denise Corley, the CalOptima compliance director, completed the in-house investigation of the anonymous allegations.

Two months prior, Corley and then board Vice Chairman Jim McAleer reported that they asked the Sacramento law firm of Olsen, Hagel & Fishburn, which specializes in government law, to review the allegations against Kacic and Foo.

Nguyen opposed using the outside firm in the investigations. Since then, there has been no public report on results of investigations of either board member.

McAleer resigned from the CalOptima board, accusing Nguyen of causing instability as she took control that has damaged CalOptima. More than a dozen top managers have left in less than a year, most for jobs in private industry.

— TRACY WOOD

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