A former executive for Kaiser Foundation Health Plan Inc. is entitled to millions of dollars after he was exposed to intolerable workplace conditions and forced to quit because he exposed corruption within the company regarding its dealings with Medicare, an attorney told a jury Wednesday.
“This man does not back down on matters of principal,” lawyer Charles T. Mathews said during final arguments on behalf of Cesar Villalpando, who gave up $1.3 million in annual salary and benefits when he left the company in July 2017.
But Kaiser attorney Nancy Pritikin, scoffing at any suggestion Villalpando is a “whistleblower,” told jurors that the plaintiff was paid well, was given promotions and never presented any evidence to support his claims of exposing malfeasance by Kaiser executives. She also said he was rightly criticized when it was appropriate, such as when he was late to an important meeting and when he came up with a plan to move all Kaiser call center operations from California to Georgia.
She also said Villalpando’s job involved difficult tasks, but that he was well-compensated.
“This is called working and, news flash, work is hard,” Pritikin said.
Kaiser CEO Bernard Tyson testified during the trial that he rejected Villlalpando’s suggestion to move the call center operations to Georgia, saying it would be unfair to the California workers even though it would have potentially saved Kaiser money.
The 54-year-old Villalpando maintains that after coming forward, he was harassed, isolated and bullied by management. He filed his lawsuit in December 2017, naming Kaiser, Tyson, Kaiser CFO Kathy Lancaster and Kaiser Group President Gregory Adams. Lancaster, Villalpando’s former boss, and Adams testified last week.
Villalpando worked for Kaiser for more than 29 years. At the time of his resignation, he held the position of senior vice president for enterprise shared services.
He alleges in his lawsuit that Kaiser provides prescription eyeglasses and hearing aids to insurance customers in a way that defrauded both them and Medicare of hundreds of millions of dollars because of a lack of bidding processes that would make the devices more affordable. As a result, those insured by Kaiser pay far more for eyewear and hearing aids, the suit states.
Villalpando testified he bought his glasses at Costco rather than through Kaiser because they were less expensive at the warehouse chain.
The lawsuit also alleges that Kaiser was not in compliance with Medicare rules and regulations that would warrant Kaiser being given a five-star rating when it comes to the prescribing and selling of drugs to Medicare patients. Carriers in the program get paid more per enrollee.
Mathews told jurors that Lancaster and the rest of Kaiser management resisted his claims of non-compliance because it would have meant returning hundreds of millions of dollars to the government.
Villalpando never doubted the skills of doctors at Kaiser, who he and his family continue to see, Mathews said. Villalpando’s sole concern was doing what was right for the company and he did not believe those in charge were acting in the insurer’s best interests, according to Mathews.
“He didn’t want Kaiser to be hurt,” Mathews said.