State contract-award procedures will be reviewed after a newspaper reported a Maine company's bid to collect Medicaid overpayments in Oregon was given priority following lobbying...

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SALEM, Ore. — State contract-award procedures will be reviewed after a newspaper reported a Maine company’s bid to collect Medicaid overpayments in Oregon was given priority following lobbying by a consulting firm headed by former Gov. Neil Goldschmidt.

The (Salem) Statesman Journal reported last Sunday that HWT Inc. of Maine got its proposal put on a fast track after it was represented by Tom Imeson, a close friend and adviser to Gov. Ted Kulongoski and at the time a business partner of Goldschmidt, who also advised Kulongoski.

HWT uses sophisticated software to identify health-care providers who overbill Medicaid through mistakes or fraud. It then acts as a collection agency, keeping a portion of the money recovered.

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The company has been criticized in other states for hiring trusted advisers to try to influence state contract decisions.

HWT Chief Executive Officer Des Varady did not return phone messages left this week.

Imeson said the company no longer is his client.

Government e-mails obtained by the Salem newspaper show that Imeson communicated regularly about the potential contract with Steve Schneider, who was Kulongoski’s deputy chief of staff.

At Imeson’s urging, Schneider arranged meetings between HWT officials and State Department heads and pressured those agency heads to speed the bidding process, according to the Statesman Journal.

Schneider also leaned on agency heads to rewrite a request for proposals after Imeson complained that he had been “totally screwed.”

The initial request was for services that HWT could not provide. But the company submitted a proposal when the bid was reissued last month.

Schneider said he was just pushing a good idea for saving money and that the first proposal was not written to provide the most benefit for the state.

With a billion dollars in state spending on Medicaid, it’s not unusual for companies to offer software or other services to save the state money. But some former insiders told the Statesman Journal the strong-arm lobbying used by Goldschmidt’s firm for HWT is unusual.

“I don’t recall ever having lobbyists show up to pressure us in the governor’s office,” said Mark Gibson, health-policy adviser for then-Gov. John Kitzhaber from 1995 to 2002.

A former state manager who worked on information-services contracts before the Kitzhaber administration said HWT’s approach was unthinkable then.

“I’ve never heard anybody be so aggressive as to rewrite your [specifications] because we’ve got this service to sell,” said James Brown, who retired from state government a decade ago after 32 years of service. “If they did that 10 years ago, we’d tell them where to go.”

The state Department of Human Services and the Department of Administrative Services since have decided to re-evaluate the four bids received, including the one from HWT.

“We are concerned about the process, so we are going to do a new process,” said Cindy Becker, deputy director of DHS.

A new evaluation committee will be chosen to do a “blind evaluation,” meaning it will evaluate the proposals without knowing which company each proposal came from.

No new contract award date has been set, Becker said.