Alabama Medicaid officials testified today that they strongly opposed language added to the state budget in 2013 that would have uniquely benefited a company that was paying House Speaker Mike Hubbard’s Auburn Network under a consulting contract.
Medicaid Commissioner Stephanie Azar, Clinical Services Director Kelli Littlejohn Newman and former state Health Officer Don Williamson took the stand as witnesses called by the prosecution in Hubbard’s ethics trial.
Hubbard is charged with voting for legislation with a conflict of interest because of the Medicaid language, one of 23 felony ethics counts issued by a special grand jury in 2014.
The speaker has pleaded not guilty and denied wrongdoing.
Today was the third day of testimony in his trial.
American Pharmacy Cooperative Inc., (APCI) which represents independent pharmacies, was paying Hubbard’s company $5,000 a month in 2013 at a time when the Legislature was considering the state budget.
State House lobbyists and then-state Rep. Greg Wren were pushing a plan to add language to the Medicaid section of the budget that would have made APCI the only company eligible to be a pharmacy benefit manager for Medicaid if the agency chose to use a PBM.
Earlier testimony in the case indicated that Hubbard took part in meetings about the APCI language and expressed his support for it. He failed to disclose his contract with APCI to his staff and others at the meetings.
On April 23, 2013, Hubbard voted for the budget with the language in it, against the advice of his chief of staff, Josh Blades, who had learned about Hubbard’s APCI contract from a lobbyist and was worried about a potential conflict of interest, Blades testified on Wednesday.
Today, Medicaid officials testified that they were not consulted about the APCI language and became alarmed when they discovered it.
They were still in the process of considering whether a PBM was wise policy for Medicaid, they said. And they did not want to be restricted to a single provider, APCI, if they chose to go that route, they said.
“I picked up the phone and called Commissioner Azar because it was an urgent concern,” Newman testified.
The day after the budget passed the House, Azar and Williamson met with Hubbard and expressed their concerns about the APCI language.
“We approached Speaker Hubbard and had concerns that it was creating a monopoly and was extremely problematic,” Azar testified.
Williamson testified that when they met, Hubbard said the APCI language came from Wren and committed to help remove it from the budget.
Williamson testified that Hubbard urged him to meet with Wren about the matter.
Williamson also testified that Hubbard revealed at the meeting that Auburn Network had a contract with APCI to do work outside Alabama.
Williamson said he had heard State House rumors about Hubbard’s APCI contract and was surprised by it.
Azar said the end result of the meeting was that Hubbard recommended they talk to Wren about their concerns over the APCI language.
Azar and Williamson testified that when they met with Wren and said they wanted the APCI language to come out, Wren because extremely angry.
“Unreasonably angry,” Azar said.
Wren would later plead guilty to a misdemeanor ethics charge related to the APCI language and resign from office.
Wren had a consulting contract with another company, RxAlly, that was partly owned by APCI.
Wren agreed to cooperate with prosecutors but so far has not been called as a witness in Hubbard’s case.
A conference committee ultimately stripped the APCI language from the budget and inserted language favored by Medicaid.