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AIDS groups coping as contractor stops paying Medicaid claims

Vince Gray, Washington D.C., Gay News, Washington Blade

‘In light of the financial problems of Chartered, I will be taking steps to protect the District’s health care provider network,’ said Mayor Vincent Gray in a statement. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Whitman-Walker Health and several other D.C. health care organizations say they are continuing to provide services to Medicaid clients with HIV/AIDS following the announcement in April that a city contractor had stopped paying Medicaid claims.

Whitman-Walker and several other local providers serving HIV/AIDS patients told the Blade they have so far managed to get by without getting paid for patients on Medicaid following the financial collapse of a city contractor that has operated D.C.’s Medicaid program.

A Washington Post story on Sunday reported that many small health care providers, including doctors’ offices and small clinics serving low-income clients, were struggling to keep their doors open since the Medicaid payments stopped last month.

The Medicaid problem began earlier this year when Chartered Health Plan, the company that arranged for Medicaid payments to doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers entered into voluntary receivership after encountering severe financial problems.

Under its contract with the city, Chartered managed Medicaid related issues for more than 100,000 low-income D.C. residents, according to a statement released in April by the D.C. Department of Health Care Finance.

The Post reported that Chartered Health Plan, once a multimillion dollar company, faced near financial collapse this year as an apparent result of revelations in late 2010 that its owner, Jeffrey E. Thompson, allegedly financed a “shadow campaign” in support of Vincent Gray’s 2010 mayoral election.

The United States Attorney’s office continues to investigate issues surrounding the campaign, which the city’s Office of Campaign Finance has said violated the city’s campaign finance law. Gray has said he had no knowledge of the so-called shadow campaign and has cooperated with investigators looking into the matter.

Whitman-Walker spokesperson Chip Lewis said Chartered owes Whitman-Walker just over $40,000 in back Medicaid payments for patient services.

“Whitman-Walker Health is absorbing the delay in payments from Chartered Health Plan within our current operations,” Lewis told the Blade. “Going forward, we do not anticipate this outstanding balance will create a major financial burden as it is a relatively small amount of funds compared to our monthly operating budget of $2.2 million.”

Ron Simmons, executive director of Us Helping Us, and Lloyd Buckner, executive director of MetroHealth, formerly known as the Carl Vogel Center, said the city’s Medicaid payment delays haven’t adversely impacted their respective organizations at this time.

Both organizations provide services for people with HIV/AIDS and both accept patients on Medicaid, the two said.

Michael Weinstein, director of the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which operates an AIDS clinic and pharmacy in D.C., said, “Medicaid is not a big funder to our clinic” and the interruption of Medicaid payments in D.C. “is not significant to us.”

An official with La Clinica del Pueblo, a D.C. clinic that provides AIDS-related medical services for the Latino community, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

“In light of the financial problems of Chartered, I will be taking steps to protect the District’s health care provider network that has taken years for us to develop,” Mayor Gray said in a statement in April.

“My primary goal is to protect the stability of the community-based providers that will be at risk of closing their doors and turning away patients if there is a significant delay in being paid,” Gray said.

Gray said that he directed his Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, BB Otero, and the Department of Health Care Finance to develop a plan to provide relief for providers hit the hardest by the Medicaid payment cutoff.

The Post reported that since the time of the mayor’s announcement last month the city has retained a new company, AmeriHealth Caritas of Philadelphia, to replace Chartered Health as the city’s lead contractor for Medicaid services.


Mautner Project to become part of Whitman-Walker

Leslie Calman of the Mautner Project

‘We are very excited that we’ll be working with Whitman-Walker Health,’ said Leslie Calman, the Mautner Project’s executive director, who is stepping down from the organization. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Mautner Project, a national lesbian health organization based in Washington, D.C. since its founding in 1990, will become an arm of D.C.’s Whitman-Walker Health in what leaders of both groups are calling an “historic collaboration.”

In a joint statement released on Tuesday, the two organizations said the arrangement will bring the Mautner Project’s programs and staff under the “umbrella” of Whitman-Walker, an LGBT community health care provider founded in 1978.

“We are very excited that we’ll be working with Whitman-Walker Health,” said Leslie Calman, the Mautner Project’s executive director. “It has a long, prestigious history of providing culturally sensitive health care services to Washington’s LGBT community.”

Calman said the joining of the two organizations would allow Mautner to “offer more critical services to a greater number of women who need those services throughout the region; it’s a natural fit.”

Don Blanchon, CEO of Whitman-Walker, said bringing Mautner’s programs into Whitman-Walker’s operations would enhance the longstanding mission of both organizations.

“Mautner Project has been dedicated to the health and wellness of Washington’s lesbian community for over 20 years,” Blanchon said. “We’ve been looking for a way to expand our health care services to women and Mautner Project’s programs and reach within their community will help us fulfill that mission.”

Although the joint statement released by the two organizations repeatedly uses the term “collaboration” to describe the new arrangement between the groups, details released by the groups give the appearance of a corporate merger.

Calman told the Blade that Mautner Project’s status as an independent non-profit corporation will cease to exist in the coming months as the organization closes its books and shuts down its office at 1300 19th St., N.W.

She said five of the Mautner Project’s six employees will continue to work on Mautner’s programs as Whitman-Walker employees working out of Whitman-Walker’s headquarters building at 1701 14th St., N.W.

Calman said she is leaving Mautner to become the CEO of a global health organization called Engineering World Health, which provides technical assistance on medical equipment in developing countries in Africa.

She said Mautner Project’s annual budget over the past several years has been about $950,000. Whitman-Walker spokesperson Chip Lewis said Whitman-Walker’s 2013 budget and projected revenue is $30.6 million.

Whitman-Walker emerged in the 1990s as the city’s largest private health care provider for people with HIV/AIDS. In recent years, Whitman-Walker has become a primary medical and dental care provider for all health care needs.

“Our mission is to be the highest quality, culturally competent community health center serving Washington’s diverse urban community, including individuals who face barriers to accessing care, and with a special expertise in LGBT and HIV care,” the statement announcing the new arrangement with Mautner Project says.

Unlike Whitman-Walker, Mautner Project has not offered direct medical services. Instead, the organization says on its website that it was founded to provide a wide range of support for lesbians with cancer and other serious illnesses through support groups, education and training of medical providers.

“Educating health care providers about the needs and concerns of their lesbian, bisexual and transgender clients” has been a key part of Mautner’s mission, its website says.

Calman said Mautner wasn’t facing an immediate financial crisis at the time its board decided to approach Whitman-Walker about a possible merger. But she said the board and staff became increasingly aware of the growing difficulty for smaller non-profit organizations like Mautner to raise money and serve the number of clients in need of services.

“The Mautner Project could have continued as an independent non-profit in the immediate future, meaning the next few years,” Calman told the Blade. “But the environment is getting harder and harder,” she said in referring to lining up donors willing to support a group of that size.

Corporate donors and foundations have been calling on small non-profits to “collaborate” or merge with other similar groups to eliminate what they consider a duplication of administrative costs such as office equipment, rent and executive directors’ salaries, Calman said.

“So it was a very deliberative, very thoughtful exploration of possibilities,” she said. “For us it’s really been about keeping the organizational programs and making it stronger and guaranteeing it into the future.”

Calman noted that in addition to continuing its services for lesbians with serious illnesses such as cancer, the Mautner programs at Whitman-Walker will also continue various illness prevention programs established by Mautner. Among them are cancer screening, smoking cessation and obesity reduction.

“Mautner Project will continue its operations at the Whitman-Walker Health’s 14th Street headquarters uninterrupted, led by Jacquetta Brooks, the current director of services at Mautner Project,” the joint statement says.

In its 2010 990 finance report filed with the IRS, the most recent such report available for public inspection, the Mautner Project reported it had sustained a deficit or debt of $107,107. The same report says Mautner had a deficit or debt of $264,390 in 2009.

Calman told the Blade that while Mautner often sustained a debt, the deficit figures reported in the group’s 2010 990 report gave an exaggerated perception of the actual debt, which she said was much smaller due to grants or other income that Mautner received shortly after the report was filed.

She said Mautner’s and Whitman-Walker’s respective boards agreed to keep confidential any debt that Mautner may have had at the time of the joining of the two groups.


Whitman-Walker to expand into new Logan Circle building

Whitman-Walker Health, gay news, Washington Blade

Whitman-Walker plans to rent nearly 43,000 square feet of office space in the new building under construction at 1525 14th St., N.W. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Whitman-Walker Health on Tuesday announced it will lease nearly 43,000 square feet in a building currently under construction at 1525 14th St., N.W., between P and Q Streets in Logan Circle.

Chip Lewis, spokesperson for Whitman-Walker, told the Washington Blade the new location will house most of the agency’s health care services once it opens in mid-2014. Whitman-Walker’s administrative offices, along with a handful of patient programs will remain at the Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center at 1701 14th St., N.W.

The organization’s Max Robinson Center is located on Martin Luther King Jr., Avenue, S.E., in Anacostia.

“We are going to be clearly expanding our capacity for patients,” Lewis said. “We are going to be expanding our services. We are going to be adding some new services, so it’s going to be quite a big deal when it comes together.”

The Blade will provide more details as they become available.