Medicaid contracts, a close friend, big money and Gov. Scott’s re-election campaign

02/26/2014 2:56 PM

02/27/2014 11:07 PM

Before the Florida Legislature convenes Tuesday in Tallahassee, Coral Gables healthcare tycoon Miguel B. “Mike” Fernandez will host a Sunday afternoon barbecue with Gov. Rick Scott, Scott’s wife Ann and key members of the governor’s campaign finance team.

Fernandez, dubbed “Florida’s newest billionaire” last year by Florida Trend, was named finance co-chair of Scott’s campaign in January. In the announcement, the governor called Fernandez a “close friend.”

But Fernandez, chairman of MBF Healthcare Partners, is more than Scott’s friend. He is also a huge contributor to his reelection campaign and the owner or co-owner of fast-growing healthcare companies that under Scott’s administration have been awarded multiple, multi-year state contracts potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Most of those contracts involve Florida Medicaid, which is implementing managed-care changes, including the Managed Medical Assistance program. The program is expected to begin in May.

Better Health Plan, which does business as Simply Better Health and is an affiliate of Fernandez’s $450 million Simply Healthcare Plans, won contracts from Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) last year to provide general services in three of Florida’s 11 Medicaid managed-care regions, including Broward County.

Clear Health Alliance, a Medicaid plan offered by Simply Healthcare Plans, was awarded AHCA contracts to provide specialty services to Medicaid patients who are HIV-positive or have been diagnosed with AIDS.

The Florida Times-Union first reported Fernandez’s ties to Better Health and Clear Alliance in January after Scott appointed Fernandez to his campaign team.

AHCA disclaimed any partiality in contract awards in a statement released by agency spokeswoman Shelisha Coleman.

“Every company that won an award in SMMC (Statewide Medicaid Managed Care program) rightfully earned its award. No companies received an award as a result of favoritism. The agency followed Florida’s strict procurement laws . . . in letter and in spirit at all times.’

Fernandez, reached Tuesday by email, said, “Companies in which I have invested in have Medicaid contracts, totaling in the billions since 1990. This includes contracts with the State of Florida under the leadership of multiple governors, including a contract under Governor [Charlie] Crist. All contracts save the state much needed funds and improved care to our patients.”

In October 2012, BrowardBulldog.org reported that Fernandez was a silent partner in a $44.8 million contract awarded by Florida’s Department of Children & Families to manage mental health services in Broward.

The multi-year contract went to the Broward Behavioral Health Coalition, a nonprofit group led by former DCF boss and state Attorney General Bob Butterworth, and its for-profit partner, Concordia Behavioral Health of Miami.

Fernandez was a major Concordia shareholder. His name was disclosed to top department officials, but was omitted from DCF records about the procurement.

Fernandez’s invisibility regarding the Broward procurement meant that no one took note of his $125,000 contribution to Let’s Get to Work, a fund-raising organization set up with the governor’s support on Jan. 25, 2012, while the procurement was pending.

Previously, during Scott’s 2010 campaign, Fernandez and his MBF Family Investments gave Let’s Get to Work $500,000.

Asked about those large contributions in 2012, Katy Sorenson, head of the Good Government Initiative at the University of Miami, said, “It sounds like maybe Gov. Scott is running Florida like a business — doing business with his friends.”

Fernandez’s money continues to gush the governor’s way.

On November 2, 2013, as the governor’s reelection campaign was stirring, Fernandez personally gave $1 million to Let’s Get to Work. No one else has written a check that large in support of Scott’s reelection.

Sunday’s get-together at Fernandez’s opulent Little River Plantation, not far from Tallahassee, is an invitation-only event.

“As an important member of Governor Rick Scott’s finance team, Mike Fernandez is opening his home to you. He is not a public person and believes we need to meet each other in person and in a social setting . . . Nothing formal (casual jeans and casual setting.) We will chat, have BBQ and see beautiful horses . . . We need to come together so we can deliver victory together,” the emailed invitation said.

Little River Plantation includes a 7,000-square-foot home with six bedrooms, seven bathrooms, a full gourmet kitchen and a great room, according to its website. There’s a smaller lake house nearby.

“Your every whim will be coddled within the walls of our fabulous homes away from home,” prospective guests were told.

Miami Herald staff writer Marc Caputo contributed to this report.

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