Cal-Optima Op-Ed In OC Register Yesterday
Posted by Former Blogger Chris Emami on January 30, 2013
In the OC Register yesterday an op-ed was written by Supervisor Janet Nguyen in response to some of the recent press given to CalOptima. I thought that I would take a moment to provide the link to that article here and allow readers to see the text from the op-ed as well:
The Orange County grand jury, in its newly released report, “CalOptima burns while majority of supervisors fiddle,” fails to address the real issues of CalOptima, a $1.4 billion public agency that was plagued by a lack of accountability and transparency. After being appointed to the CalOptima board of directors two years ago and recognizing millions of taxpayer dollars were being wasted, I sought to reform this agency.
CalOptima administers health insurance programs for 418,000 low-income families, children, seniors and persons with disabilities, a combined population that constitutes one-in-seven residents in Orange County. Given its important role, it is imperative that people know the truth about CalOptima, not what was asserted in this report. Not only did the grand jury miss the fact that I was working to reform the agency, but this report is riddled with inaccuracies.
To start, the grand jury’s claim that, in March 2011, a lobbyist rewrote the county ordinance that changed the composition of the CalOptima board is outright wrong. The ordinance that changed the composition of the board was rewritten and approved in December 2011, with no lobbyist involvement.
The following reckless actions of CalOptima’s previous leadership were omitted from the grand jury’s report. For example: CalOptima paid $1 million annually in rent for vacant space on a four-year lease after purchasing a $30.2 million office building; this purchase caused a net current account deficit. Cal-Optima also spent $6.6 million to lease and repair a building that was assessed at $1.1 million.
To make matters worse, while the agency was facing $100 million in reduced state and federal funding, 12 executives were given $250,000 in bonuses, including $66,000 for the former CEO, whose annual compensation totaled $515,743, making him the highest-paid government CEO in Orange County.
CalOptima continued to mire itself in frivolous expenditures, such as $774,000 for gym memberships, which went unused, prompting staff to wrongfully lower performance standards to renew the contract without board approval. CalOptima spent approximately $90,000 worth of staff time on non-Cal-Optima business, and contracted with a public-relations firm for approximately $20,000, ultimately giving the firm $350,000 without an open bid process and board approval.
Not surprisingly, an internal audit revealed that 40 percent of vendors sampled were inappropriately paid without a contract.
Taxpayers should be outraged that these funds were not spent properly – yet should be reassured that the new board and I have taken steps to correct these abuses. If my efforts to stop the mismanagement and waste of taxpayer dollars have been misconstrued, then so be it. I refused to sit idle while a $1.4 billion public agency was being governed recklessly.
Moreover, CalOptima is not “imploding,” as stated by the grand jury’s report. The new board, which has more than 100 years of combined experience in health care, plus expertise in finance and law, has continued to ensure that approximately 95 cents of every dollar received by CalOptima is spent on health care. The satisfaction ratings for the agency’s largest patient population increased to above 80 percent. In addition, for the first time since 2007, patients have more choices for physicians and specialists.
In omitting these achievements and ignoring the facts, the grand jury’s report is incomplete. The smoke screen created by the grand jury has veiled those responsible for burning through so many taxpayer dollars.