The editorial board of the Wilmington Star-News pointedly offers this advice to the McCrory administration in Friday ‘s paper: Get your own house in order, before you try to fix Medicaid. You can read the full editorial below:
‘The woman hired to fix North Carolina’s “broken” Medicaid system has become yet another example of how difficult it is for public officials to break the perceived cycle of “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” that Gov. Pat McCrory campaigned against. And once again, the spotlight is on the Department of Health and Human Services, whose leader, Aldona Wos, also has stirred controversy with a series of questionable hiring decisions.
Carol Steckel, who came to North Carolina with impressive credentials after leading Medicaid programs in Louisiana and Alabama, has left her $210,000-a-year job to work for a company that wants to run the state’s Medicaid program under McCrory’s plan to privatize the program serving disabled and low-income residents. That fishy smell is not your imagination working overtime.
A woman who has worked for the state and no doubt has inside information on the state’s program has jumped ship. Her new employer wants a lucrative state contract, paid for by the taxpayers. It would be naive to think that the company, WellCare Health Plans in Tampa, Fla., wasn’t considering that connection when it hired her. To her credit, and because anything else would smack of quid pro quo, Steckel has asked to be excluded from conversations and correspondence about the division she has led for eight months.
Steckel is free to go where she will. The state has laws restricting elected officials and cabinet secretaries from jumping straight into jobs as lobbyists, but there is less guidance on former state employees who take their knowledge and move directly into the private sector, working for a company that wants the state’s business – and tax dollars.
But taxpayers should keep a close eye on who gets the contract or contracts to handle the Medicaid program. And lawmakers should ask a lot of questions if WellCare is among the recommended managed-care companies when it comes time to award a contract.
Although Wos and McCrory have dubbed the Medicaid system failing, one aspect that has received national accolades is the Community Care program, which aims to coordinate care and rein in costs.
The existing system will be replaced with privatized care management if the governor’s plan is put in place; the new program had better be a significant improvement.
For her part, Wos has been aloof even as critics have lambasted her elevation of two young McCrory campaign staffers to prominent, high-paying posts, her approval of more than $37,000 “severance” to her chief of staff who left after just a month on the job, and her decision to hire a man who was working for her husband’s company as a “consultant.” (So far he’s been paid $228,000.)
McCrory and his DHHS secretary have failed to see the connection between appearances and reality, even though McCrory had rightfully criticized previous governors for embracing pay-to-play politics and awarding jobs based on patronage or cozy relationships.
They may believe that their plan is what’s best for Medicaid and its clients. But they can’t sell that pitch if the track record causes the public to believe the decision was based on politics as usual.’