Bath Township enters lawsuit

Editor’s note: this is one of two stories addressing the Bath Township lawsuit against a self-insured healthcare cooperative.

BATH TOWNSHIP – The Bath Township Board of Trustees has officially joined forces with the Stark County Combined General Health District and at least 24 Ohio governmental entities in a lawsuit against a self-insured healthcare cooperative that was created to lower healthcare costs for thousands of public employees but now faces millions of dollars in deficits.

In a 2-0 vote during the Aug. 30 township meeting, the township trustees approved retaining Paul-Michael La Fayette, an attorney with Columbus-based Isaac Wiles Burkholder & Teetor, LLC. to intervene on behalf of the township in the ongoing litigations with the Ohio Public Entity Consortium Healthcare Cooperative (OPEC-HC), the Ohio Insurance Services Agency, and the agency’s president and OPEC-HC founder, Frank Harmon.

The Board of the Stark County Combined General Health District filed the lawsuit against the healthcare cooperative and its operator in the Stark County Common Pleas Court on July 17. The claim alleges fraudulent negligent misrepresentation, financial mismanagement, and violation of state public record laws and Ohio’s open meetings laws.

The plaintiff also requested a court order mandating that OPEC-HC restored the healthcare coverage for health department employees and their families through the original administrator, the Jefferson Health Plan, and access to Medical Mutual of Ohio providers’ network. OPEC-HC Board of Directors voted in late June to abruptly terminate the consortium’s relationship with the Jefferson Health Plan, effective July 1, which brought about medical claim denials for many. In addition, the plaintiff is asking for relief from any impending fines and a complete account of all monies the health department has paid into OPEC-HC.

The Ohio State Auditor’s Office has also hired an independent accounting firm to audit OPEC-HC’s records. The auditor’s office claims the consortium failed to register when it first formed in 2014, as required by law.

Township Trustee Steve Ross stated that Greene County Assistant Prosecutor Stephanie Hayden had been in contact with other attorneys throughout the state concerning the unsettling situation between OPEC-HC and the Jefferson Health Plan.

“They have been at odds with each other. It appears that OPEC-HC has overstepped its boundaries by leaving the Jefferson Health Plan and going with Benovation,” Ross said.

In a letter addressed to township trustees earlier in August, La Fayette stated that Stark County Common Pleas Judge Frank G. Forchione approved a preliminary injunction order that restored the Stark County Combined General Health District and intervening parties to “the status quo as of June 26.”

“That means that the Stark County Health District and all intervening parties are back with the Jefferson Health Plan as the group administrator, and Medical Mutual of Ohio as the insurer, as it existed on that date and throughout the remainder of the litigation,” La Fayette said.

Ross said the OPEC–HC currently consists of 157 governmental entities in Ohio, including Bath and Xenia Townships and the Greene County Combined Health District. La Fayette is currently representing 24 of those entities that have intervened in the lawsuit. According to La Fayette, two additional entities have also approved intervening, and at least three other entities are considering it. Stark County Common Pleas Judge Kristin Farmer referred the case to a mediator, who scheduled a meeting with the involved parties in Canton, Ohio on Aug. 31.

“We are fast approaching the point where I think the court will stop further intervention,” La Fayette stated in his August letter. “That being said, I am fairly confident that I will be successful adding additional parties prior to the mediation on Aug. 31. However, I suspect after the mediation, the court will be more reluctant to grant the motion.”

By Linda Collins

Fairborn Daily Herald

Linda Collins is a freelance writer for Greene County News.