Is it true that 15 mental health providers whose Medicaid payments were frozen by the state over fraud allegations were targeted because of their “past ties to Democratic governors?” That’s the charge made by a former executive of the company that oversees the state’s behavioral health system.
While measuring “political ties” would be a virtually impossible task, a review of political contributions does show that several of the chief executive officers of those health agencies donated thousands of dollars to Bill Richardson, a Democrat who was governor between 2003 and 2009, as well as to Diane Denish, who lost to Republican Gov. Susana Martinez in 2010.
Only one of the CEOs from the 15 firms accused of overbilling in a recent audit contributed to Martinez’s campaign.
Whether the donations translate into political influence is questionable. None of the CEOs comes close to being considered a major contributor in any of the campaigns. Also, several of those who gave money to Richardson did not make any contributions after the 2002 election.
The accusation that Martinez’s administration targeted the providers for political reasons came from Jana Spalding, former vice president of consumer and family affairs at OptumHealth New Mexico this week in Behavorial Healthcare, an online publication covering the mental health industry.
The state Human Services Department insists the suspension of the Medicaid funds, which came after an outside audit by a Boston firm, was required by federal law. That assessment has been backed by Attorney General Gary King, a Democrat who wants to run against Martinez next year.
Here is the list of the New Mexico providers and their contributions, according to FollowTheMoney.org.
• Roque Garcia of Southwest Counseling Center in Las Cruces gave Denish $950 in 2010. He hedged his bet slightly by giving Martinez $100 that year. In 2006, he contributed $1,000 to Richardson and in 2002, he gave Richardson $500.
• Nancy Jo Archer of Hogares in Albuquerque gave Denish $900 in 2010 and $300 in 2006, when Denish was running for re-election as lieutenant governor on the same ticket as Richardson.
• Marti Wright Everitt of Counseling Associates gave Richardson $500 in 2002.
• Jose Frietze of Families and Youth Inc. in Albuquerque gave $750 to Denish in 2010 and $500 to Denish in 2008 (she was raising money that year for her gubernatorial run.) In 2006, he gave Richardson $50, while in 2002, he gave Richardson $770 and Denish $250.
• Kathleen Hunt of Border Area Mental Health in Reserve gave Richardson $100 in 2006. In 2002, she gave Richardson $800 and Denish $250.
• James Kerlin of The Counseling Center in Alamogordo gave Richardson $1,250 and Denish $250 in 2002.
• Vincent Ortega of Southern New Mexico Human Development in Anthony gave Richardson $1,250 in 2002.
• Sam Vigil of Valencia Counseling Service gave Richardson $1,250 and Denish $250 in 2002.
Behavioral health companies from Arizona have contracted with the state to temporarily replace the New Mexico providers until an investigation into the fraud allegations is complete. Some critics of the administration have suggested these firms may have contributed to Martinez’s campaign coffers; however, a check of campaign contributions at FollowTheMoney.org, a website for the National Institute on Money in State Politics, showed that none of those CEOs has donated to any politicians in New Mexico.