Glendening's Rivals Look for Links to Young
By Charles Babington and Avram Goldstein
Federal and state investigators are exploring whether Young (D-Baltimore) improperly pressured state officials to help health care companies that contributed many thousands of dollars to private ventures run by Young. The companies include Prince George's-based PrimeHealth Corp., which contributed $30,000 to a religious rally headed by Young -- payments later described by ethics officials as an illegal gift.
Young, who had chaired the Legislative Black Caucus and a key Senate subcommittee on health matters, had urged the administration to help PrimeHealth obtain state approval to participate in the push to direct Medicaid patients into managed-care organizations. Young and other legislators said it was important that the handful of state-approved companies include an African American-owned firm, such as PrimeHealth.
Glendening spokesman Ray Feldmann said yesterday that Glendening was among several state officials who were approached by black legislators concerned that African American companies be represented in the new program. Feldmann said Glendening shared those concerns and directed state officials "to make sure African Americans participate in the process."
Feldmann said Glendening did not get involved in specific applications for any company, although one of his aides met with PrimeHealth officials to discuss their application for state business.
While Feldmann and other state officials described such efforts as appropriate, Glendening's rivals stepped up their efforts to make political hay out of the allegations surrounding Young, a longtime political ally of the governor's.
Ray Schoenke, a Democrat challenging Glendening's reelection bid this fall, echoed Republican candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey's earlier demand that Glendening release more information about the administration's dealings with PrimeHealth.
"At the very least, Glendening gives the appearance of impropriety by conducting the people's business in secret," Schoenke, a former Redskins football player, said at a news conference.
In a letter to Glendening this week, Sauerbrey said, "Because of the involvement of the state health department, it will ultimately reflect on you as well as Senator Young. I would therefore think you would want to clear the air as soon as possible."
Glendening supporters said the attacks are unfair but probably inevitable in an election year. Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery) said: "They're looking for something they can twist to the least favorable interpretation."
Young was expelled from the Senate last month after a report from a joint legislative ethics committee that concluded Young used his state office to collect thousands of dollars in payments from companies and other entities with interests in state government. Young has insisted he did nothing improper, but the controversy over his dealings continues to roil state politics.
Yesterday, the Maryland Board of Regents issued an audit saying there is no documentation of work that Young says he performed for Coppin State College in return for $38,500 the state-run school paid him in 1996 and 1997. Alfred S. Chavez, Jr., director of internal audits for the state's university system, said auditors were unable "to identify any tangible benefit that the college had received as a result of the senator's efforts."
The Coppin payments and other Young matters are being investigated by a federal grand jury in Baltimore and a state grand jury in Annapolis. Andrea Leahy-Fucheck, legal counsel to Glendening, confirmed yesterday that the state health department received a federal subpoena for records this week and that state investigators have questioned "at least five or six" state employees in various agencies, but none in the governor's office.
In recent years, administration officials made special efforts to assist PrimeHealth, including changing a key regulation to make the fledgling health care firm eligible to serve Medicaid patients under the new managed-care program.
Because most Maryland Medicaid recipients are black, it is important to be "culturally sensitive" to their need to be served by black physicians, state Health Secretary Martin P. Wasserman said in an interview yesterday.
As the effort to move 330,000 Maryland Medicaid recipients into managed-care organizations got underway, officials and black leaders had the "perception" that African American doctors found it difficult to win contracts as providers with HMOs, he said.
"I thought it would be good to create and strengthen the African American presence," Wasserman said. "We went and provided a greater sense of technical assistance [to PrimeHealth] than others got at the time." He said that other firms applying for managed-care contracts now are given similar help.
Glendening's deputy chief of staff, Donna Jacobs, met last year with PrimeHealth officials who said the health department was not helping enough in the application process. On April 25, Barbara Shipnuck, deputy secretary of health, wrote Jacobs a memo. The Baltimore Sun reported this week that the memo said her department had done "extraordinary things" and "provided services beyond the normal level of expectation" to assist PrimeHealth.
In an interview last night, Shipnuck said she wrote the memo to assure Jacobs that her agency was working diligently with PrimeHealth. "I did not feel pressured to break any of the rules or change any of the decisions the department had made" regarding PrimeHealth, she said. Shipnuck said three other HMOs have received "extraordinary" help in obtaining state certification.
Staff writer Eugene L. Meyer contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company