Welcome to The Closing Bell. This is your last stop for biz scoops and big news before the weekend — a roundup of stories that can’t wait till Monday.
Lawsuit: Humana refused to pay for thousands of colorectal cancer screenings
A lawsuit filed this week accuses Humana of violating state and federal laws by refusing to cover more than $800,000 in claims for thousands of colorectal cancer screening tests in 45 states.
The company that produces the tests, Wisconsin-based Exact Sciences, filed the suit this week in U.S. District Court in Louisville, saying Humana’s conduct “threatens irreparable harm to … patients who depend upon the tests.”
“Since at least October 2014, and continuing through the present, Humana has improperly and illegally refused to pay Exact for claims, under commercial plans, Medicare Advantage plans, and otherwise, totaling in excess of $800,000,” the suit alleges.
Exact Sciences alleges Humana has violated laws in many states that require health insurers to cover costs for colorectal cancer screenings.
The company owns the Cologuard test, which analyzes the DNA of cells that are shed by the colon and passed with stool. The test is available by prescription only for people 50 and older.
Exact Sciences said it has performed nearly 4,700 of the tests for Humana customers, and Humana has denied the claims for reasons including that the Cologuard test is “experimental or investigational” and that Exact “failed to secure preauthorization before performing its tests.”
Exact Sciences said the Cologuard test is effective and has been approved by the FDA, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and endorsed by the American Cancer Society.
The suit also alleges Humana has distributed a flier in states including Kentucky “falsely informing medical providers that Cologuard is ineffective and … not covered under Humana’s commercial plans.”
According to the suit, Humana said last month that “any miscommunication in the flier was unintentional,” and that it is now using a different version of the flier and “will attempt to determine which Kentucky physicians received the flier and contact them if any clarification is needed.”
The company asked the court to prevent Humana from continuing its actions and to award Exact Sciences lost profits, contractual and compensatory damages and to award “exemplary damages for Humana’s intentional and tortious conduct.”
A Humana spokesman told IL the company does not comment on pending litigation.
Exact Sciences is a molecular diagnostics company focused on cancer detection and prevention. It was founded in 1995 and went public in 2001. The company said last month it completed about 38,000 Cologuard tests in the fourth quarter, generating revenues of about $14 million. —Boris Ladwig
Passport Health may create plan for ACA exchange
Passport Health Plan has many pots on the fire.
Just after announcing a partnership with Va.-based Evolent Health, Passport Health CEO Mark Carter told IL about another project the not-for-profit is contemplating.
Passport Health, which disburses Medicaid to recipients in Kentucky, is considering creating a low-premium health care plan for the federal health care exchange.
The plan would target low-income individuals and focus on managing costs and improved access to primary care, similar to its current programs, he said, except it would be open to everyone.
“I suspect within the next year we will probably have an announcement,” Carter said.
Adding a plan to the exchange is one way the not-for-profit is looking to increase its client pool.
It serves 280,000 Medicaid recipients now but expects to add about 5,000 new clients during the next couple years with the recent introduction of its Passport Advantage plan for people with severe health problems and disabilities who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid.
La Gallo Rosso closes … again
The Italian restaurant La Gallo Rosso has packed up its equipment and moved out of the Mellwood Arts Center after just a year.
La Gallo Rosso did not respond to a request via Facebook to talk about the closure but did confirm it was no longer in operation and that there are no plans currently to reopen elsewhere.
Chef Annette Saco originally opened La Gallo Rosso on Bardstown Road but closed it in 2014. At the time, Stephen Coomes wrote that it was a “homey” restaurant with “really good food that too few people know about.”
La Gallo Rosso’s former Highlands home is now Roux, chef Dustin Stagger’s NOLA-inspired restaurant, which seems to be doing well there.
After closing La Gallo Rosso, Saco started working as head chef at Don Vito’s Italian Bistro, a New Albany restaurant that lasted less than a year. Notably, that space is the future home of Gospel Bird, a Southern concept created by chef Eric Morris, who previously opened Epic Sammich Co. with Staggers. (Staggers is no longer part of Gospel Bird.)
In January 2015, Saco reopened La Gallo Rosso, this time at Mellwood Arts Center. However, it seems the restaurant’s luck hasn’t changed.
Back in August, Saco told IL she’d built up a lunch business, but the restaurant likely struggled to bring in a consistent dinner crowd. Although we don’t know exactly why La Gallo Rosso closed, one can surmise the lack of a liquor license didn’t help. After all, what’s Italian food without wine? —Caitlin Bowling
Brown-Forman approves share buyback
Louisville-based distiller Brown-Forman Corp. has approved a share repurchase program of $1 billion.
The company said its current buyback expires March 24, and the new one will run from April 1, 2016, through March 31, 2017.
Share repurchases are a way for a company to use a portion of its profits to reduce the number of outstanding shares, which means that even if earnings remain the same, earnings per share go up. A repurchase also can indicate the company believes its shares are undervalued. The value of the company’s non-voting stock has increased about 8.4 percent in the last year, while the S&P 500 has fallen about 4 percent.
The company’s board also declared a quarterly cash dividend of 34 cents, payable April 1 for shareholders of record on March 9.
Brown-Forman CEO Paul Varga said that despite the dividends and buyback the company has been “investing significantly in (its) future.”
“Our company is very well-positioned to capitalize on continued global demand for premium American whiskey brands, led by our Jack Daniel’s trademark,” Varga said. “Our excellent balance sheet, coupled with the anticipated proceeds from the sale of Southern Comfort and Tuaca and our strong and growing cash flow, allow us to continue to return capital to shareholders.”
Two weeks ago, the company said it had agreed to sell Southern Comfort and Tuaca brands to rival Sazerac for $543.5 million. The deal is expected to close March 1. —Boris Ladwig
Woodford Reserve gets publicity on HBO
The comedian mentioned the brand in the New Rules segment, which usually concludes the show and includes Maher’s takes on, well, anything he finds interesting.
Last week, he showed a photo from the Woodford Reserve Twitter feed, in which the brand showed two bottles of its product and asked, “Two-hundred flavors in every sip. Which one is your favorite?”
Maher said, “Woodford Reserve has to stop bragging that their Bourbon has 200 distinct flavors. People don’t drink Bourbon to taste subtle hints of marzipan, pear and nutmeg. They drink it to forget that their lives peaked in high school.”
You can watch the piece here, about 42 seconds in. The Brown-Forman folks can file that under the adage that any publicity is good publicity. —Boris Ladwig
Tracy Blue out at Voice-Tribune … plus other local media moves
“Tracy is no longer with The Voice and Blue Equity Publishing. We are continuing operations as normal.”
That’s the official statement Blue Equity LLC provided to Insider Louisville after we received numerous tips indicating Tracy Blue had abruptly left the building and would no longer serve as publisher at the Voice-Tribune or at her recently founded LGBT-focused magazine Modern Louisville. The publications are owned by Blue Equity, which also publishes an internal magazine and Churchill Downs’ magazine.
No word on why Tracy Blue departed the company or who will take her place.
The Voice-Tribune has been around since 1949, covering the charitable, social and cultural scenes in Louisville. It was originally a St. Matthews-centered publication, but it eventually expanded its coverage to other tony ZIP codes.
Modern Louisville published its first issue in September 2015. The magazine is issued bi-monthly.
In other local media news: Laura Snyder, former managing editor at LEO Weekly, announced on Facebook this week that she’s been promoted to publisher of the alt-weekly. Last September, owner and executive editor Aaron Yarmuth asked then-publisher David Brennan to step down because of a Facebook post that was deemed inappropriate. Snyder previously served as the editor at NFocus Magazine.
And speaking of NFocus: Publisher Pam Brooks recently announced her retirement from the publication, which is owned by Nashville-based SouthComm. She is formerly a publisher at LEO. Sarah Mitchell has taken the helm as publisher at NFocus, where she previously worked as an account executive. –Melissa Chipman
Forest Giant redesigns WFPL’s website
The folks at Forest Giant (who have a relatively new website themselves) redesigned 89.3 WFPL’s website, which launched this week. Forest Giant also is working on a WFPL app to be launched soon. The new three-column grid design offers “users more options ‘above the fold,’ so it’s clearer we have a dynamic site that is turning over often throughout the day,” said Charles Spivey, CTO at Louisville Public Media.
“Forest Giant has great experience not only in web design, but also in the app world. There are fantastic web designers out there, and there are equally fantastic app designers, but Forest Giant was the one that integrates both with ease,” said Spivey. “We worked with Forest Giant for several months to build a new WFPL site that is better aligned with our digital content strategy.”
The new site emphasizes audio, both for individual stories and longer podcasts.
The previous site was created by VIA Studio around two years ago. Prior to that, WFPL’s website was built inside the NPR digital system, Core Publisher. –Melissa Chipman
NuLu store hosting preview event for online auction
Rellek, a NuLu-based consignment shop that carries furniture and home décor, is hosting a week-long preview event with Everything But The House, a Cincinnati-based online auction company.
From Feb. 9-15, Louisville residents can visit Rellek during its regular business hours to get an in-person peek at the more than 150 items. The online auction starts on Feb. 9 on Everything But The House’s website and closes at 8 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 15.
Everything But The House sells, well, everything but the house. Its website shows listings for rugs, couches, a diamond engagement ring, art and cars.
“We’ve really done it all,” said Birch Miller, who works for Everything But The House and set up the auction preview.
The upcoming auction is filled with items gathered by Rellek owner Gregg Keller, including prints, chairs, vases, a vintage croquet set and local art.
“It’s making room for new things,” Keller said, while exposing the business to people across the United States. Because it is online, people can bid in the auction from anywhere as long as they set up an account.
Every auction item starts at $1, no matter what it is. The bidding start time for each item is staggered by three minutes, and as long as bids are coming in every five minutes or less, the auction for a particular item continues.
GE extends contract with home builder
General Electric’s appliance division has extended its contract with a leading home builder, assuring that Louisville-made products continue to be offered in thousands of new homes.
As part of the agreement, Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Taylor Morrison will continue to furnish its homes with GE Appliances brands, including Café, Profile and the luxury Monogram.
Taylor Morrison operated in more than 200 communities, according to its most recent annual report, but the company is expanding. It announced last month that it had acquired Atlanta-based Acadia Homes & Neighborhoods, which operates in 20 neighborhoods. Last summer it bought from Orleans Homes 2,100 lots in 24 communities in Charlotte and Raleigh, N.C., and in Chicago.
Taylor Morrison closed on nearly 6,800 homes in 2014, with an average selling price of $443,000.
“As Taylor Morrison continues to expand its footprint in growing markets throughout the U.S., GE is thrilled to offer its portfolio of appliances in quality new homes,” John Boyd, general manager of GE Contract Sales, said in a press release.
GE said Taylor Morrison agreed to the extension in part because of GE’s continued innovation, such as the recently launched Cafe Series refrigerator with a Keurig brewing system.
“In GE, we have found superior support, a simplified ordering process and dependable delivery and installation services for our homeowners,” Robert Broad, Taylor Morrison’s VP of Operations, said in the release. —Boris Ladwig
Wendell Berry documentary to be screened at SXSW Film Festival
On Tuesday, filmmakers of “THE SEER: A Portrait of Wendell Berry” learned their documentary was selected to screen at this March’s South-by-Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas, which will officially be its world premiere. Directed by documentarian Laura Dunn, the film is described as a moving and lyrical portrait of Kentucky writer, farmer and activist Berry.
Louisvillians Gill Holland and Owsley Brown are co-producers on the project, and executive credits go to the impressive talents of Robert Redford and Terrence Malick. It was shot by Lee Daniel — who also worked on “Boyhood” — and filmed in and around Henry County, Ky.
On the movie’s website, filmmakers shared the news of making it into the highly regarded SXSW Film Fest: “We look forward to sharing what we’ve been working on for the past few years.”
New store plans spring opening at Mall St. Matthews
Shoe manufacturer Vans is opening a brand-specific store in Mall St. Matthews on Shelbyville Road.
David Jacoby, general manager at Mall St. Matthews, told IL that the store is expected to open on or around May 1 depending on construction.
Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government issued a building permit earlier this week, allowing workers to retrofit a 2,747-square-foot space in the mall for the new Vans store. The estimated cost, according to the permit, is $160,000.
Vans is a California-based shoe company known mostly for making multiple variations of one type of shoe, the low-top, slip-on sneakers pictured.
The brand is associated with professional skateboarders, surfers and BMX riders. —Caitlin Bowling