Optum exec contributes to Governor weeks before fast-track deal

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Simple political fundraising or should Hoosiers be suspicious?

Earlier this spring, an executive with Optum Health made one of the largest campaign contributions to the governor from any individual.

Weeks later, the state fast-tracked a $17.9 million deal with Optum to test for COVID-19 statewide.

Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb (R) says he played no role is the state’s choice.

On March 4, Grant Verstandig made a $50,000 contribution to the Eric Holcomb for Indiana campaign. Vertsandig, of Virginia, is listed as the Chief Digital Officer on Optum’s website.

On April 28, the state announced Optum has been selected, without other proposals, to implement the tests.

“I had no involvement in selecting that,” Holcomb said at today’s press conference.

He then asked Dr. Kristina Box, State Health Commissioner, to provide more details.

“The governor was not engaged with that at all,” Box said on TV.

“I can say we did work with about seven different companies and basically asked them to give us, because we needed to set this up very, very quickly, quotes with regards to how they would be able to stand up to this type of testing and be able to do that testing in a very quick manner. Optum was already a vendor for the state of Indiana and had a good track with us. That’s why Optum was chosen, but the governor was not engaged in that at all.”

However, Dr. Box partially misspoke, according to a follow-up email.

“Dr. Box was referencing the separate contact tracing contract with Maximus when she mentioned those proposals,” said an email from Indiana’s Joint Information Center.

“The governor had no involvement in the selection of OptumServe,” the email stressed.

OptumServe is a division of Optum that partners with government agencies. Maximus is the company paid $43 million to help with contact tracing of infected Hoosiers.

The Joint Information Center explained the state’s priority was to quickly launch both test sites and tracing. Seven tracing companies were asked for quotes while only one appears to have been asked about testing.

“It (OptumServe) was the only vendor in the nation able to stand up statewide testing on the timetable needed by the state and had already done so in California,” the Joint Information Center emailed.

The typical request for proposal process takes 45 days.

Holly Lawson, press secretary for the Indiana Republican Party, says this donation is not unusual since Governor Holcomb has a national profile.

“He met Grant Verstandig earlier this year. All of our fundraising is conducted in a transparent, open and compliant manner.”

A spokesperson for Optum emailed WANE 15 that “this was an individual contribution by an employee, all of whom make their own personal decisions about participation in political and civic activities.”

The only larger donation from an individual to the governor’s campaign is $100,000 from racing executive Roger Penske.

This story was updated to include the emailed responses in the newscast video.

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