Cardinal Innovations Healthcare fires CEO Richard Topping

Empty desk chair in modern office
Effective Dec. 1, Richard Topping will no longer be the CEO of Cardinal Innovations Healthcare. (Getty/Robert Daly)

Richard Topping, the CEO of North Carolina-based Cardinal Innovations Healthcare, has been fired by the managed care company’s board of directors just weeks after seeing his salary cut by more than half.

Cardinal, which serves Medicaid enrollees with mental health issues, substance use disorders and complex health needs, has been under regulatory scrutiny for months, according to the Associated Press. In May, the North Carolina office of the State Auditor accused the company of spending excessively on executive salaries, conferences and Christmas parties.

A subsequent investigation by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services highlighted issues with executive severance packages, and said Topping’s salary—$617,526 for the year ending June 30, 2016—was nearly three times more than what the next highest CEO earned among the North Carolina’s seven regional mental health agencies.

The state’s Office of State Human Resources told Cardinal in August that Topping’s salary could be no higher than to $204,195, and the company voted in October to adjust his salary to that level, per the AP article.

Topping’s removal from his post is effective Dec. 1, after which Trey Sutten, the company’s interim chief financial officer, will temporarily take his place.

But while Topping will soon exit his role as CEO, the controversy remains over his and other executives’ severance packages. North Carolina state Rep. Verla Insko, a Democrat, said he’s concerned about a contract that allows 10 other high-ranking Cardinal executives to exit with Topping—all with a payout of two years of their salaries, the Winston-Salem Journal reported.

Cardinal also plans to provide Topping with up to two years of his salary as severance, but it’s unclear if that will be at the $617,526 or $204,195 level. The managed care company had filed a lawsuit seeking to retain its authority to pay Topping the higher salary.

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare is not the only managed care company to be scrutinized recently. Centene and Anthem, for example, have received criticism for raking in eye-popping profits in California despite the fact that the state sometimes found their patient care to be substandard.

Speaking on a panel at the Medicaid Health Plans of America conference this fall, Topping himself acknowledged that managed care plans have profited handsomely from Medicaid expansion—but noted that the Trump administration has changed the game.

“Everyone knows the Medicaid gold rush is over,” he said.