Thompson's Medicaid Reforms Could Benefit His Employers

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Last week, Tommy G. Thompson, the former secretary of health and human services, proposed overhauling Medicaid in ways that he says would be good for the country. Critics contend that some of Thompson's recommendations also could be good for companies that he works for.

Thompson, in an interview with The Washington Post last Tuesday, said the federal government should assume primary responsibility for elderly Medicaid beneficiaries and leave those under 65 to the states. He called for more disease-prevention efforts, electronic medical records, and moving some Medicaid patients and the uninsured into commercial health insurance.

The former Wisconsin governor had shopped many of the ideas around for years, and experts say many are worth exploring. Still, these days Thompson speaks not just as a former government leader but also as an executive with ties to several companies that have a hand in Medicaid. The program, jointly funded by the state and federal governments, pays medical bills for more than 50 million low-income, elderly and disabled people with no other access to care.

Thompson, who served during President Bush's first term, is on the board of Centene Corp., a St. Louis-based company that operates Medicaid-funded health maintenance organizations in Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, Texas and Wisconsin. His proposals to move more Medicaid beneficiaries and uninsured people onto such plans could improve the company's bottom line.

Thompson also is chairman of the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, part of Deloitte & Touche USA LLP, a consulting firm that has contracted with states to help improve their Medicaid programs. If Thompson becomes a driving force behind revamping Medicaid, states who hire Deloitte may feel they are contracting with a player. Ditto for clients' perceptions of the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, in which Thompson is a partner and which has health-care and insurance industry clients.

Thompson also is a part-owner and board member of VeriChip Corp., which makes microchips that store data and can be implanted in humans. The company might benefit if Medicaid were to embrace electronic medical records.

"An important part of our strategy has been to attract key thought and opinion leaders, and Secretary Thompson has played an influential role in shaping this country's healthcare policies," Scott R. Silverman, CEO of VeriChip Corp.'s parent company, said in a July 2005 news release. "We look forward to him assisting the company to make the VeriChip an important part of the healthcare landscape."

In a statement yesterday, Thompson said his efforts to change Medicaid began "long before" his corporate relationships.

"When I was governor of Wisconsin in the mid 1980s, I witnessed first hand how this program was placing an enormous financial burden on my state and others as well as how inefficient Medicaid was in meeting the needs of those who rely on it," he said, adding that his goal is to "initiate a meaningful dialogue with Medicaid's various stakeholders and to assure that that this program doesn't unravel in the coming years."

-- Christopher Lee

© 2006 The Washington Post Company