Senate Hearing Into OHA Communications Scandal Fizzles

Over the protests of Republican Sen. Kim Thatcher, Democrats said it’s time to move on and give the new leadership team a chance at the Oregon Health Authority, a position that FamilyCare shared.

A Senate committee opened and closed a public hearing on the Oregon Health Authority’s communications scandal involving FamilyCare, as the people involved with the ordeal failed to show up at the hearing.

Sen. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, had hoped to grill former director Lynne Saxton about the plan to persuade the news media to run negative stories about FamilyCare, one of 16 coordinated care organizations providing Medicaid in Oregon. The communications scheme was uncovered by the Portland Tribune last month, leading to Saxton’s resignation.

Saxton left the state agency at the end of August and she instead submitted a letter from her attorney advising her to avoid speaking on the subject.

The interim director of the agency, Pat Allen, appeared in Saxton’s place, promising to bring “transparency, accountability and the wise use of government resources” to the beleaguered agency. “The FamilyCare communications plan is not at all the kind of plan I would request,” he said.

The Democrats on the committee all nodded to Allen, who agreed that his task should be setting the state agency on a new course, not continuing to rake his predecessors over the coals -- an attitude that did not satisfy an exasperated Thatcher.

“I feel like there has to be other prongs to this investigation,” the Republican said. “We can subpoena some of these people involved. It’s our job to hold other branches accountable.”

“The people involved have not been disciplined and reprimanded -- they’ve been removed,” argued Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton. “That feels like stomping on their graves, and I’m not sure it’s productive.”

Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, a part-time prosecutor, added that forcing Saxton and others who have left OHA to testify would be futile. “”If there’s any possibility of criminal charges, they’ll take the fifth,” he said, referring to the U.S. Constitution’s 5th Amendment, which forbids a citizen from being compelled to testify against one’s self.

Criminal charges are unlikely, however, and FamilyCare would like to end even its long-running civil court feud with the state agency. CEO Jeff Heatherington said after the hearing that he had told Allen he would like to reach an agreement outside litigation, but none had yet been accepted.

Allen started on Sept. 1.

“He needs to get his feet on the ground,” said Heatherington. “I think he is going to change the culture.”

Reach Chris Gray at [email protected].

Clarification: FamilyCare executives verbally sought an agreement with Pat Allen and OHA to end litigation, but no formal settlement was offered.

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