THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA: AHCA looks likely to go weith ACS for now

Dec 8, 2009

THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA published this article on December 8, 2009


THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Dec. 8, 2009……Despite more grumbling about its performance, one of the nation’s largest technology companies Tuesday appeared likely to retain a lucrative state contract for recouping some $120 million in Medicaid overpayments.

Affiliated Computer Services, Inc., a Dallas-based company under fire from lawmakers on several fronts, earned a qualified endorsement from Tom Arnold, chief of the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration before the Senate’s Health and Human Services budget committee.

“We should be getting every penny that is owed to us, and we are going to do that,” Arnold assured lawmakers.

ACS recently was absolved of a $500-a-day fine – on top of a $35,000 penalty imposed in September – for its inaction on recouping state payments, Arnold said. Also in the company’s defense, Arnold said ACS has sent out about $50 million in billing in recent months and has shown signs of improving.

“You have my assurances we will monitor this carefully,” Arnold told the Senate panel, which has been reviewing millions of dollars in proposed reductions to health and social services programs.

Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, who earlier told the News Service of Florida that he wanted to strip ACS of its contract, relented Tuesday following a few harsh words for the firm.

“Since we didn’t collect hardly any money in the first year they were on contract, why are we paying them, at all?” Gaetz said.

HHS budget committee chairman Durell Peaden, R-Crestview, said lawmakers were inclined to stick with ACS for now.

“You can only squeeze the turnip so much,” Peaden said.

Florida’s $18 billion Medicaid program is on track to run $462 million in the red this year, with administrators proposing wide-ranging cuts in the state’s already fragile social service network to offset the shortfall.

State efforts to recover overpayments to doctors, hospitals and other health care providers in 2006-07 helped pull $119 million into the budget, on top of $157.5 million the year before, according to agency records.

But ACS’ five-year contract, worth $44 million to the company, has yielded only a portion of those past rewards. ACS won the contract last year over rival Health Management Systems and had recovered only $15 million by this fall – although millions more in billings have now been issued.

ACS is represented by a high-voltage lobbyist team in Tallahassee, with many members close to Republican leaders. Included are Larry Overton, former Rep. Frank Messersmith, and Charlie Dudley.

Lobbyists for Health Management Systems include equally-well positioned Republicans, Jim Magill and Mac Stipanovich.

ACS also is catching heat for its largest state contract, a five-year, $87.3 million contract with Florida Healthy Kids Corp., which has been closely watched by state officials for more than a year – since 62,500 children lost health-insurance coverage because of problems with a computer system ACS developed.

Odds appear stacked, too, against ACS’ smallest state contract – providing a call center for five counties that comprise Florida’s Medicaid reform effort. The initiative, begun under former Gov. Jeb Bush, was to expand statewide but has stalled in recent years.

AHCA officials are recommending that the agency now operate the call center – saying technology changes make a privatized call center unnecessary. Instead of steering $1 million-a-year to ACS, state officials say they can save $354,000 by bringing the call center in-house.