When the area's independent pharmacies noticed their reimbursement rates for Medicaid prescriptions dropped recently, they started to ask questions and dig for answers themselves.

In the end, one of their concerns centered around Carol Steckel, who, in September, was named the state's commissioner for the Department of Medicaid Services.

Before accepting that position, Steckel worked five years as an executive at WellCare, the managed care organization that subcontracts with CVS Caremark -- the companies responsible for recently lowering payments made to the state's independent pharmacies for dispensing medicine to Medicaid customers. While at WellCare, Steckel headed the company's Medicaid policy.

Sacramento Pharmacy owner and independent pharmacist Gregg Henry considers her former job a conflict of interest in her current position, which helps oversee the state's complicated system of managed care organizations and pharmacy benefit managers.

"It's not going to take too much to connect the dots on that one," Henry said of Steckel's former ties to WellCare.

He is not alone. According to state officials, other pharmacists have written letters, voicing similar concerns.

"Commissioner Steckel is well aware of the concerns of the pharmacists," said Doug Hogan, Cabinet for Health and Family Services executive director of public affairs. "She has read each and every letter sent to her, and (Department of Medicaid Services') Pharmacy Director, Jessin Joseph, has reached

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out to personally follow up regarding their concerns."

Steckel brings to the job a 30-year history with Medicaid, Hogan said, including work in Washington, D.C. She also served in two other states as Medicaid director.

"Her experience at WellCare was relatively short and was focused on her Medicaid experience," he said. "Her passion for the program and for its beneficiaries is uncontested. We trust that she is working on behalf of the commonwealth."

Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, rbeasleyjones@messenger-inquirer.com.

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