By SEAN M C NALLY
On Tuesday, for the third time in three months, the Board of Supervisors will discuss the third-party administration agreement for the county of Kern POS health plan. Before the next discussion occurs, the Board will have taken testimony and debated this issue publicly for more than eight hours. I have followed both meetings. I have listened to everything each side has presented. And I am concerned that the board will make a mistake and award the contract to a group of out-of-state providers.
At its core, this is a simple matter. The County Administrative Office, at the recommendation of its consultant, Tom Morrison from the Segal Group, is recommending that the county replace the current vendor of many years, Managed Care Systems, a local company that generates local revenue, employs local residents and enjoys an impeccable reputation.
The CAO is being advised to change to an arrangement that so far involves at least three out-of-state companies that haven't yet finished designing their model for the contract they seek. It is being advised to replace a proven, integrated, local company with an unproven, still incomplete arrangement of out-of-state companies whose representatives cannot yet accurately explain in detail what the ultimate design and cost of their model will be.
In fact, no one, including the CAO and Morrison, is arguing that Managed Care Systems has not done an excellent job. Remarkably, MCS held county health care costs and employee contributions flat for the past three years. This is an unprecedented accomplishment at a time of extraordinary uncertainty and inflation in the cost of health care everywhere. And MCS has accomplished this as it receives rave reviews from county employees who compliment the compassion and sincerity its staff displays as it helps them manage difficult and sometimes emotional situations in their lives.
In my former role at another large Kern County company, I worked closely with MCS as we designed and implemented the best health care model we had seen. In fact, their model was so good we incorporated many of their ideas in SB 863, a workers' compensation reform law passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown last year.
One of the many services MCS provides that distinguishes it from others in the industry is its ability to collect, analyze and report data. Knowledge is power. Real-time information and analysis is critical for timely and efficient decisions when managing a health plan. MCS provides information with impeccable accuracy and insight.
So why is the county considering a change?
MCS has been accused of having a conflict of interest because of a 50 percent ownership by Dignity Health Systems. However, the county's own attorney says there is no legal conflict of interest. More importantly, there is no evidence that MCS or Dignity has ever acted in a way that is adverse to the interests of the county and its employees. In fact, every audit or analysis of its services gives it the highest marks. The amazing fact that MCS held costs to the county and its employees flat is proof of that.
It has been alleged, falsely, that an MCS contract would be more costly. That is not true. In fact, the CAO and its consultant have now acknowledged that they used bad information to project their costs. When the correct information is included in their own analysis, their projection is almost a million dollars higher than MCS.
Is the Board of Supervisors considering a change because it is confused or frightened by allegations of an improper conflict that its own attorney says does not exist? That would be a disservice to this fine organization and to our community.
What is in fact true, regardless of the baseless allegations of a conflict, is that the health care model MCS has developed in coordination with Dignity is an example of the future of health care administration. These two fine organizations are building for a future that reflects the demands and realities mandated by the Affordable Care Act. It will allow them to continue to improve on what they already do as well or better than anyone else. They will continue to be able coordinate with local providers in ways no out-of-state organization can. We should be championing them as an example of the common-sense innovation we pride ourselves for in this great community.
A vote by the county supervisors to grant MCS the contract for the county of Kern POS health plan will be a win for our county employees, a win for our medical community and, ultimately, a win for our county, because it will strengthen our local medical community and improve the quality of care for everyone who lives here.
Sean McNally of Bakersfield is the chief executive officer of KBA Engineering. He is writing in response to Donald Cornforth's April 11 op-ed article, "Questions about conflicts, Brown Act and pay-for-play."