Magic Johnson Enterprises is investing in a Miami-based insurer, Simply Healthcare Plans, to create a major Medicaid program for HIV-AIDS patients that takes advantage of a bill signed last week by Gov. Rick Scott.
The companies announced the partnership Tuesday to mark the official launch of Clear Health Alliance, a subsidiary of Simply that is a Medicaid plan for those with HIV and AIDS. The alliance will start in Miami-Dade and expand throughout Florida.
“This is two minority powerhouses coming together — an African-American and an Hispanic,” said Miguel “Mike” Fernandez, chairman of Simply.
Earvin “Magic” Johnson, a former basketball star who is HIV-positive, has long been active in promoting care for HIV-AIDs patients. In a prepared statement, Johnson said he was looking forward to working with Simply to develop “healthcare programs focused on the needs of individuals in underserved communities.”
Fernandez praised Johnson as “incredible businessman” for his astute investments, including Starbucks. Last month, Johnson led a group that bought the Los Angeles Dodgers for $2 billion.
The “facilitator” for their alliance was a mutual friend, Miami Heat President Pat Riley, Fernandez said. Riley and Fernandez are neighbors in Gables Estates. Riley coached Johnson at the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980s.
Fernandez, best known for selling CarePlus to Humana for $450 million in 2004, said he and Johnson envisioned “a high-touch, high-care program” that would include transportation services and nutrition advice to provide “a more holistic approach than we have ever done.”
They plan to extend the concept nationwide, partly through clinics, a form of healthcare delivery that has prospered in Miami-Dade in companies led by Fernandez and Leon Medical Centers.
“Leon is the best medical care operation there is in a community of Cuban-Americans,” Fernandez said, “but that model has yet to be proven outside of Miami-Dade County. We intend to take this concept into the national scene, to include medical centers to treat HIV patients, targeting the inner city of low-income Hispanics and African-Americans.”
HIV-AIDS patients often need extensive — and expensive — medical treatment, but they have historically “not participated in managed care,” Fernandez said.
For several years, the Republican-led Legislature has advocated putting patients into managed care programs on the theory that private companies can control healthcare costs better than government agencies can. Scott is also a strong supporter of the concept.
Last year, Fernandez said, the Legislature passed a law allowing the creation of special Medicaid plans for HIV patients in South Florida. This year, as part of a bill to control Medicaid costs, HIV Medicaid patients statewide will be required to join special health maintenance organizations. Medicaid is a form of state-federal health insurance for the poor.
That paved the way for the Johnson-Fernandez partnership. “This could not have been done without the governor’s office and the Agency for Health Care Administration,” Fernandez said. “They saw the value and supported our ideas.”
Fernandez has been a strong supporter of Scott and Florida Republicans. In the fall of 2010, Fernandez and six companies controlled by him donated a total of $700,000 to Scott’s political action committee, Let’s Get to Work. Fernandez also personally contributed $510,000 to the Republican Party of Florida in the past two years, as well as $25,000 to the Florida Democratic Party.
Miami Herald Staff Writer Scott Hiaasen contributed to this article.