Can Trusted be trusted? D.C. Medicaid’s newest vendor still has a lot to prove to clients

Jun 21, 2013, 6:00am EDT

Health Care

Can Trusted be trusted? D.C. Medicaid’s newest vendor still has a lot to prove to clients

Ben Fischer

Staff Reporter- Washington Business Journal

Questions continue to swirl around Trusted Health Plans, one of the District’s three new Medicaid contractors that narrowly won a fight for its life in April after some D.C. politicians questioned its ability to handle the lucrative, complex business.

On June 18, it emerged that Trusted has cut ties with its would-be CEO, Sharon Baskerville, a veteran District health care activist whose reputation helped smooth the path from startup to major contractor. Trusted, a 2-year-old company whose two co-founders are based in Detroit and Los Angeles, is entering the D.C. market for the first time with this contract, sharing business worth up to $543 million with two other companies.

Further, just two weeks earlier, Kaiser Permanente — one of the country’s best known health care brands — forced it to change its name to Trusted, because the old name, Thrive Health Plans, was encroaching on Kaiser’s “Thrive” marketing campaign that dates back to 2004.

Trusted executives declined to comment.

City officials say they remain confident in Trusted, which is undergoing final testing this week to prove its operational mettle. “They’ve done a very good job in a very short period of time to get themselves ready.” said Wayne Turnage, D.C. health care finance director.

But medical industry players are not yet convinced. The last-second changes to the name and leadership ranks have come at a time when scores of hospitals and doctors are fighting to get repaid by D.C. Chartered Health Plan, the city’s previous, longtime contractor now in receivership. That, combined with a general unease about any newcomer to the Medicaid business, likely makes for a tough few weeks ahead for Trusted.

“All of these things contribute to a sense of anxiety,” said Vincent Keane, CEO of Unity Health Care, the city’s largest network of community clinics. “They may not add up to a conspiracy or anything like that, but they definitely do add up to confusion on the part of the residents who are Medicaid HMO eligible.”

A lot’s riding on a successful start to the new Medicaid contracts, which also went to AmeriHealth Caritas and MedStar Family Choice. After the collapse of Chartered, the city desperately wants privatized Medicaid to work again. The good news: Providers and patients will know within days in July if the new contractors, including Trusted, are succeeding.

Ben Fischer covers health care and law.

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