Lawsuit Questions Bowman's Ties in United HealthCare Case

by Mark Friedman  on Monday, Mar. 23, 2009 12:00 am  

Attorneys representing United HealthCare of Arkansas bought meals for Julie Benafield Bowman, then commissioner of the Arkansas Insurance Department, before and after she ruled in United's favor in a dispute with the state's three surgical hospitals last fall, documents show.

Bowman left the Insurance Department at the end of 2008 and began work Jan. 12 as United HealthCare's director of regulatory affairs for Arkansas and Tennessee.

Sam Perroni, an investor in Arkansas Surgical Hospital of North Little Rock and one of its attorneys, is appealing the September ruling in which Bowman interpreted the state's "any willing provider" legislation in a manner favorable to insurers and costly to the state's three surgical hospitals. He maintains that Bowman had a conflict of interest that should have disqualified her from hearing the case.

Perroni also said in the filings in Pulaski County Circuit Court that United or its attorneys from the Mitchell Williams law firm of Little Rock "paid directly or reimbursed expenses relating to Bowman's travel for certain out of state meetings."

Bowman strongly denied last week that she did anything wrong in handling the surgical hospitals' complaint against United HealthCare of Arkansas and the other large health insurers in the state, Arkansas Blue Cross & Blue Shield and QualChoice of Arkansas.

The surgical hospitals don't "have the law or the facts on their side and they're grasping at straws," Bowman said. She said the surgical hospitals were attacking her credibility and integrity "because they don't have anything else."

Nick Thompson, an attorney for Mitchell Williams, took Bowman out to eat several times in 2007 and 2008, according to documents obtained by Arkansas Business. Thompson, too, said the surgical hospitals' allegations "are totally without merit."

The documents show that Thompson had lunch with Bowman five times starting in February 2007 – a month after Arkansas Surgical Hospital filed its complaint with Bowman – through July 16, 2008.

The lunches occurred at places such as the Country Club of Little Rock and Copper Grill and sometimes included Bowman's deputy commissioner, Dan Honey. Thompson's expense report listed the reason for most of the lunches as discussion of the "MAWG" settlement, which stood for Market Analysis Working Group of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. Bowman was vice chair of the NAIC's southeastern zone.

The expense reports show the law firm billed the meals to its client, United HealthCare.

At that time, United HealthCare was facing allegations that it violated state laws involving claims-payment services. Arkansas helped negotiate the September 2007 settlement in United agreed to pay $13 million to 36 states and to improve its claims-payment system.

Seven days after Bowman ruled against the surgical hospitals, Bowman met Bill Woodyard, another Mitchell Williams lawyer, and a third person for dinner while attending a NAIC meeting in Maryland. The expense report shows that insurance business was discussed during the dinner and the $264 tab was listed as business development for the law firm.

The meetings and meals "had absolutely nothing to do with [the surgical hospitals'] complaint and nothing to do with the 'any willing provider' issue," Thompson said.



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