Judge orders Medicaid managed-care firm to pay for school health services, including $8 million in claims; appeal possible

Medicaid managed care company Kentucky Spirit must cover preventive care services provided by local health departments in schools, a judge has ruled.

Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd of Frankfort said the company must pay $8 million for the services already provided by school nurses, which would be only .07 percent of its estimated profit for 2013, according to the updated earnings report of Centene Corp. of St. Louis, the parent company for Kentucky Spirit. The company is the only one of the five managed care organizations in Kentucky  that had disputed the coverage of school health services.

Kentucky Spirit stopped providing coverage for school health services last summer, saying its state contract didn't require payment for such services,but Shepherd noted that the state reimbursed health departments for school services before it transitioned to managed care, reports Tom Loftus of The Courier-Journal. “Kentucky Spirit is not free to disregard this longstanding interpretation of Medicaid eligibility and unilaterally re-interpret these to the detriment of local health departments,” Shepherd wrote.

Health departments and school districts will now find some relief because many school nurse programs were threatened by cutbacks and closings as a result of Kentucky Spirits failure to pay for services. “It’s great news because there have been dozens of districts that have had to either say they are going to cut back on nurses, or that they are going to close clinics, or that they are going to dip into their reserves to try to cover the additional costs,” Kentucky School Boards Association spokesman Brad Hughes told Loftus.

Gov. Steve Beshear said Kentucky Spirit had “sought a loophole” in its contract to avoid paying for school health services covered by Medicaid, writes Loftus. Centene released a statement later Tuesday saying that the company is reviewing options and considering an appeal.

This isn't the only payment Centene is trying to avoid. A ruling is expected soon in a lawsuit the company filed against the state last year seeking to end its contract a year early, saying the state rushed to privatize Medicaid in 2011 and provided incorrect cost information to the bidders, causing the firm to lose about $120 million.

Appalachian Regional Healthcare, the largest health-care system in Eastern Kentucky, filed suit in April of this year against Kentucky Spirit for $5.9 million in unpaid claims. This suit is still pending, and was filed just before Centene raised its full-year forecast for premium and service revenue to $10.1 billion to $10.4 billion, Reuters reports.
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