MSHA’s new CEO brings public policy experience to table

Nathan Baker • Aug 20, 2013 at 9:30 PM

Board members believe Mountain States Health Alliance’s new CEO has the right mix of public policy and private sector managerial experience to help lead the health care company through looming changes and the fight over expanding Medicaid coverage.

At a Monday morning news conference, Mountain States’ board of directors officially named Alan Levine as the successor to current President and CEO Dennis Vonderfecht.

“I think Alan has a great background, he’s got a very diverse background in the investor-owned health care field as well as the public not-for-profit field,” said Vonderfecht, who will retire at the end of the year after 24 years leading MSHA. “I think the other unique thing about him is he’s been involved in public policy in two different states — in Louisiana and Florida — and all the challenges that represents.”

In those states, Levine served as the head of their respective departments of health, and worked to plan and implement reforms to their state-managed Medicaid systems, efforts that may come in handy to help sort out Mountain States’ precarious position between the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and Virginia and Tennessee’s refusal thus far to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid coverage.

“I think that’s part of the reason why the board felt like I might be the right fit,” Levine said. “Policymakers sometimes pass major changes without understanding how the marketplace is going to react. Right now we’re seeing a lot of consolidation in the industry as a result of the reforms that are being implemented.”

But it’s Levine’s recent work in the private sector, not his years advising governors, that landed him in an uncomfortable seat across from “60 Minutes” interviewer Steve Kroft.

After only a few months of working as Florida president for national health system Health Management Associates, Levine said he was called on to defend the company against allegations of setting hospitalization quotas and Medicaid fraud on the national news program.

According to the show, “at least 100” employees admitted that HMA was attempting to maximize profits by urging doctors at many of its 71 hospitals to unnecessarily admit patients who visited emergency rooms.

The company is also facing investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice, the Office of the Inspector General and the Securities Exchange Commission relating to physician recruitment, software used to help direct the care of patients in the emergency room and financial practices.

“Before I went to work with HMA, I worked in public service, and a good chunk of that spent with the Justice Department trying to crack down on fraud and abuse,” Levine said. “During my time there I never observed behavior like that. That’s all I can speak to when I’m being asked those questions.

“But if at any point in time it was ever found that anyone did anything improper, I would expect the full weight of the law to come down on those people,” he added. “I don’t tolerate non-compliance, in any respect.”

Amid the investigations, Community Health Systems Inc., a company headquartered in Franklin, announced the purchase of HMA for a total deal valued at $7.6 billion.

The purchase makes CHS operator of the largest number of hospitals in the country, with 206 in 29 states, making $19 billion in annual revenue.

But New York City hedge fund Glenview Capital, which holds a nearly 15-percent share of HMA stock and nearly 10 percent of CHS’ shares, announced a plan to replace the entire board of directors of HMA only hours after the finalized purchase was announced.

Glenview Capital said the fresh board will re-evaluate the deal, which could mean problems for the merger.

Levine, who said the Wall Street dealings were “several levels above him,” said Monday that he intends to remain in his position over 23 of HMA’s Florida hospitals until December, when the merger will likely be finalized.

He added that he and his wife, Laura, have fallen in love with the region, and they are already searching for a home in the area.

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Mountain States names former Louisiana health secretary as president/CEO

Video of the "60 Minutes" story (Levine's interview starts at 9:00):

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