Former CalOptima board chairman Michael D. Stephens said the county health plan’s allegations that he owed it nearly $82,000 are “false and defamatory” and he’s not going to pay.

He urged the Orange County Board of Supervisors to “require” CalOptima to publicly admit it was wrong in asking for the money.

CalOptima Board Chairman Mark Refowitz, head of the county’s Health Care Agency, did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

CalOptima is the $1.4 billion county health plan for 400,000 low income, disabled and elderly county residents. Last month CalOptima sent letters to Stephens, former CalOptima board chairman Ed Kacic, and two organizations — the Managed System of Care and the Irvine Health Foundation — saying they owed the health plan a total of about $90,000 for use of staff or office space.

It asked for $8,346 from Kacic and the foundation and the rest from Stephens and the Managed System of Care, for which Stephens consulted. Former CalOptima CEO Richard Chambers at least twice told news reporters that Chambers had the authority to assign staff to the projects being questioned by the current CalOptima board and that he exercised that authority.

In an Oct. 11 letter to both the CalOptima board and the county Board of Supervisors, Stephens called the health plan’s actions toward him a series of “surreal events” that could turn into a “witch hunt.”

Stephens called on supervisors to step in and make $1.4 billion CalOptima “withdraw its request for reimbursement, and to publicly announce that it is doing so and that it no longer believes I was responsible for any misuse of CalOptima or other resources.”

The oversight responsibilities of individual agencies are generally divided among supervisors. In this case, a request like Stephens’ would more than likely have to come from Supervisor Janet Nguyen, who is the Board of Supervisors’ representative on the CalOptima board.

The Managed System of Care is a group of top hospital and other high-level nonprofit executives, including a CalOptima representative, that focuses on ways to increase care and cut the costs of treating those without insurance, among other issues.

One result of the work brought $12 million to CalOptima this year, Stephens noted.

“By any standard of analysis, that is an incredible return on CalOptima’s investment in and support of the Managed System of Care,” he wrote in his Oct. 11 letter.

Stephens, who was a consultant to the Managed System of Care, was asked by CalOptima to pay $82,405 for staff and office space. Stephens wrote that in addition to not having any direct responsibility for work produced by CalOptima staff, he didn’t have any dedicated office space.

“I was never offered office space for my own use in connection with the Project or for any other purpose. When I met with staff members or others involved with the Project, it was not in dedicated space but in whatever vacant office or conference room was available.”

He declared that “given the facts known to CalOptima and set out in (CalOptima’s) letter, these allegations are false and defamatory.”

Kacic and the Irvine Health Foundation, where he is president, were asked by CalOptima to pay $8,346 for staff time for work on a federal grant application for the Managed System of Care. The nonprofit didn’t win the federal grant.

Kacic and the Irvine Health Foundation and the Managed System of Care did not respond to CalOptima’s letters.

“We haven’t decided if there will be a response, and if so, what form it will take,” Kacic said.


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