Medical Industry Gave to Nguyen Campaign During CalOptima Overhaul

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Supervisor Janet Nguyen raised about $50,000 in campaign contributions from the medical industry in the nine months after she began restructuring the board of CalOptima to give health providers a stronger voice, according to her campaign reports.

Nguyen’s role in aiding the health industry, particularly hospitals, was highlighted last week in a county grand jury report that chastized the majority of the Board of Supervisors for not protecting the $1.5-billion health plan that cares for the county’s disabled, low-income and elderly residents.

“Political turmoil threatens the organization, jeopardizing its membership’s access to quality healthcare and potentially putting the entire entity at risk,” concluded the grand jury report.

Tuesday’s county supervisors’ board meeting will be the first public opportunity that Nguyen has to address the issues raised by the grand jury report. She has declined comment to reporters since the report was released.

Nguyen canceled a planned videotaped interview with Voice of OC reporters Monday.

CalOptima provides health coverage for more than 425,000 county residents, most of them children. Following the grand jury report, three of the five supervisors said they favored changing the CalOptima board of directors to add more supervisors.

Nguyen has not commented on specifics of the grand jury’s findings, titled “CalOptima Burns While Majority of Supervisors Fiddle.”

But last week she did issue a statement criticizing the report as “plagued by inaccuracies, misinformation, and the omission of facts and fails to focus on CalOptima’s past mismanagement and lack of oversight by the previous Board, which resulted in a lack of transparency and the misuse of over $30 million of taxpayer dollars.”

Among other things, the 15-page report states that the Hospital Association of Southern California drafted the 2011 ordinance Nguyen used to remake the CalOptima board of directors.

HASC has not addressed the allegations, but spokesman Jim Lott said in an email last week “for the record, please know that the policy of our company is to not comment on investigative reports and studies performed by government watchdog agencies.”

According to Nguyen’s campaign reports, a total of 79 health-related individuals and organizations — doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and their lobbying arm, the Hospital Association of Southern California — made political contributions to Nguyen between October 2011 and June 30, 2012. She easily won re-election in the June primary. Campaign reports for the second half of 2012 haven’t been filed yet.

In its report, the grand jury referred to a $250-per-person fundraiser for Nguyen that was held in February 2012 at the home of Dan Brothman, the CEO Western Medical Center in Santa Ana.

A copy of the fundraiser invitation provided to Voice of OC stated RSVPs should be directed to a phone number that also is listed as the Orange County contact for the Hospital Association of Southern California, which represents 26 hospitals in the county.

At the time, Julie Puentes, Orange County vice president for HASC, said “I told Dan Brothman that we would be happy to help him with that.”

Orange County has a limit of $1,800 that can be contributed to a candidate by an individual or organization for each election.

According to Nguyen’s campaign reports, she raised $49,990 from health industry groups and individuals between October 2011, when she proposed the CalOptima ordinance change, and the end of June 2012.

It’s not clear what impact the February 2012 HASC fundraiser had on Nguyen’s campaign finances because none of the contributions listed on her campaign report were made on the date of the event.

Please contact Tracy Wood directly at twood@voiceofoc.org and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/tracyVOC

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