D.C. Council approves Medicaid contract with Thrive Health Plans

A brand-new health-care firm won the D.C. Council’s approval Tuesday to do $542 million in Medicaid business with the city, but not before a lawmaker accused one of the company’s owners of committing perjury by not making required disclosures to insurance regulators.

The D.C. contract will be the first source of business for Thrive Health Plans, co-owned by Detroit area native Thomas M. Duncan II and Los Angeles lawyer Dennis S. Ellis. The firm’s upstart nature, out-of-town ownership and high ranking from city contract evaluators raised eyebrows among council members, most prominently Vincent B. Orange.

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Orange (D-At Large) amplified his earlier concerns on the council dais Tuesday, accusing Duncan of failing to disclose criminal offenses on forms submitted to insurance regulators, among other irregularities.

“The question here today is one of disclosure and honesty,” Orange said.

Duncan said in an interview last week that city insurance examiners were made aware of his three misdemeanor offenses — a 2000 arrest for underage possession of alcohol and disorderly conduct when Duncan was 20 and attending college, and a 2004 charge for a bounced check totaling less than $150.

The Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking said in a statement Monday that it saw “no reason to change its licensing decision” on Thrive and that Orange’s concerns “were raised and evaluated at the time of the application.” Also, the directors of three city departments defended the contract award — including its high ranking by a city procurement panel and the propriety of the licensing process — in a letter delivered to Orange Monday.

Yvette M. Alexander, chairman of the council’s Health Committee, disputed Orange’s claims, saying that they “have all been vetted” and that the insurance department “was aware of all of that.”

“We’re jeopardizing the health care of over 200,000 residents” by delaying the contract, said Alexander (D-Ward 7). “They deserve as much choice as we have with our health-care coverage.”

At one point, Orange proposed that the council convene an executive session to review and discuss confidential Thrive documents — a maneuver that would have required clearing the council chamber of all but members and essential staff. But colleagues balked at closing the meeting to the public.

“If you feel that a person from California and a person from Michigan can just pop into town and in just seven months receive a half-a-billion-dollar contract in the District of Columbia . . . that’s a question for you,” Orange said before the final vote. “I can look at myself in the mirror because I did the due diligence.”

In the end, Orange won votes opposing the contract from colleagues Anita Bonds (D-At Large), Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1). But seven members — including Alexander and Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) — voted yes, enough to secure approval. Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) recused himself from voting, he said, because the woman who donated him a kidney in 2009, Kim Dickens, is working for the firm.

In a statement, Duncan said Thrive is “excited and proud” to be selected and touted its “all-star team of professionals” experienced with the District’s Medicaid program. “We look forward to getting started,” he said.

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