Regence Executive Files $3 million Lawsuit in Multnomah County Circuit Court

Dr. Michael Kaufman alleges he was fired without cause as executive medical director for Regence’s Utah plan.

A $3 million lawsuit in Multnomah County Circuit Court has been filed against Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon, its parent company, Cambia Health Solutions, and its chief medical officer, Dr. Csaba Mera. 

Dr. Michael Kaufman contends he was fired by Mera in 2012 without cause and not given a corrective action plan pointing to any deficiencies in his work performance, and has requested a jury trial, according to his attorney, Craig Crispin, because his damages “exceed the mandatory arbitration limits.” He had spent eight months as executive medical director for Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Utah, losing that position in June 2012. 

Kaufman actually filed a similar lawsuit last year, which he voluntarily withdrew. “The fact that he has refiled means he intends to proceed forward,” Crispin told The Lund Report.

In addition to his $3 million claim, primarily for economic damages, Kaufman is seeking punitive damages from Mera as punishment and to deter him similar conduct in the future. 

After relocating from California, Kaufman was hired by Regence in September 2011 following negotiations with Dr. Ralph Prows, then chief medical officer for Regence’s four state region. During those negotiations he shared concerns with Prows and Allison Durkee, Regence’s executive recruiter, about being shielded from abrupt termination and was given assurances that would not occur. If any problems with his job performance arose, Prows assured him that Regence would develop a corrective action plan, saying such a process usually takes more than a year.

However, five months after Kaufman began his job, Regence terminated Prows, and, at the same time, John Stellman, senior vice president for health care services, also retired. During the interim, Kaufman was given additional corporate responsibilities, and following a meeting with Jared Short, president of Regence, discussed applying for the position vacated by Stellman, which he did in April 2012. 

During that two hour meeting, “Short did not mention any performance issues or suggest that he had any concerns about Dr. Kaufman’s career with Regence,” according to the complaint. 

Soon thereafter, a rivalry developed between Kaufman and Mera, who applied for the same position, and, according to Kaufman, “fabricated reports of alleged performance problems. … to eliminate his candidacy,” the complaint states. 

In June, Mera fired Kaufman for “poor performance,” saying he would not honor the earlier promise of a corrective action plan. At that time, Mera was interim chief medical officer for Cambia and executive medical director for Regence’s Oregon health plan.

In his complaint, Kaufman alleges that Mera “acted intentionally with an improper and abuse motive and with malice,” and “exerted undue influence on Joan Byrd, vice president of integrated case management, to cooperate in causing his termination.”  

In response to this lawsuit, Regena Frieden director of public relations for Cambia Health Solutions, told The Lund Report,  “Cambia feels strongly that there is no basis for Dr. Kaufman’s allegations. We will contest the claims vigorously. Dr. Kaufman made similar allegations last year against another employer and the case was dismissed.”

Diane can be reached at [email protected]

 

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