Company missing data is a deep-pocket pal of top Georgia politicians

When a company that delivers health insurance to low-income Georgians wanted to host a fundraiser for Gov. Nathan Deal in St. Louis during his 2014 re-election campaign, its top lobbyist raised concerns that the racially charged riots roiling nearby Ferguson might cause Deal some heartburn.

Gov. Nathan Deal

"The situation in St. Louis and Ferguson ... do y'all see that causing any problems for the Gov. coming to St. Louis? Press could potentially make something of it were they to find out, " wrote Ray Williams, vice president of governmental affairs at Centene.

Such political sensitivity isn't new for Centene, the parent company of Peach State Health Plan, which said Monday that it is searching its offices for six hard drives that contain sensitive personal information for 950,000 people.

The company is a frequent, big-money donor to the state's top politicians, and has been for the past decade or so.

The Department of Community Health, which administers public health care programs for the state, is referring any Georgians with questions about the problem to Centene, which hasn't responded to several inquiries from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The hard drives the insurance company is trying to find contain personal information of people who received lab services from 2009-2015. The information includes names, addresses, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, member ID numbers and details on health, the company said.

Centene delivers managed care services to low-income Georgians enrolled in Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids through the company's Peach State Health Plan.  DCH said that Centene had not reported whether Georgia members are among those whose personal information is on the missing hard drives. As of December, the department said, there were 386,089 people enrolled in a Peach State plan.

Peach State

No details were available about the loss of the hard drives. But health insurers have been targets of cyberattacks. Last year, more than 3.7 million members of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia may have had personal information exposed after hackers accessed data at Anthem Inc.

State records show Centene and company executives have donated more than $550,000 to top Georgia candidates and party groups in the past decade.

While the majority Republicans have been top beneficiaries, Centene has spread the money around.

The state Republican Party and House and Senate GOP caucus political action committees have received more than $130,000 from the company in the past 10 years. The Democratic Party has received about $32,000.

Deal's campaigns have gotten about $80,000 from the company and its top executives, including about $40,000 during the 2014 St. Louis fundraiser.

But the company or its executives also contributed about $3,500 to former Secretary of State Karen Handel, who lost to Deal in the 2010 Republican gubernatorial runoff and was the favorite of many followers of then-Gov. Sonny Perdue.  Centene also contributed $7,100 to former Gov. Roy Barnes, the Democrat who lost the 2010 general election to Deal.

In politics, that's known as covering your bases.

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About the Author

James Salzer
James Salzer
James Salzer has covered state government and politics in Georgia since 1990.