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well-timed tissueGov. McCrory may have shed a few tears yesterday over the departure of his Secretary of Health and Human Services, Aldona Wos, but the chief reaction across the state — both within government and without — was relief and a strong feeling of “what took so you long? This morning’s editorial pages tell the story:

Here’s Wos’ hometown Greensboro News & Record in an editorial called “Good heart, bad fit”:

“As for tangible results, well, that was another matter. Despite her background as a physician and former U.S. ambassador— and her famous, sunrise-to-late-night work ethic — the sheer weight of the DHHS bureaucracy seemed to overwhelm Wos.

In time, critics on both sides of the partisan aisle began to wonder out loud if they were getting their money’s worth.

Now, after two and half years at the post, Wos is leaving, Gov. Pat McCrory announced at a Wednesday news conference in Raleigh. Standing at his side, Wos noted it was ‘time to go home.’ Although the governor tearfully praised Wos’ job performance and commitment — as he has all along — her tenure has been wracked by a series of missteps and crises, large and small…”

The N&R then goes on to list a half dozen HHS disasters under Wos’ leadership.

Raleigh’s N&O put it this way in a piece entitled “Don’t cry for me North Carolina”:

“Some Republican lawmakers were annoyed by the turmoil in the department and Wos’ inability to provide reliable numbers on the cost of Medicaid. Senate Republicans even proposed that their version of Medicaid reform would remove the program entirely from DHHS and place its management under the control of a new agency. Indeed, lawmakers doubts about Wos may well have played a role in her resignation.”

The Winston-Salem Journal called for the department to be put back on track:

“The resignation Wednesday of Dr. Aldona Wos, the embattled secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, was as overdue as it was unsurprising.…During the two-and-a-half years she has served as secretary, legislators of both parties, advocates and state audits have repeatedly pointed out flaws in the department’s delivery of service to some of our most vulnerable citizens.”

Charlotte Observer cartoonist Kevin Siers compares the department Wos leaves behind to the Statue of Liberty — the torch section.

Meanwhile, the Fayeteville Observer took a different approach, noting that Wos’ departure provides a perfect time to expand Medicaid:

“When he explained why he declined to adopt Obamacare’s expanded Medicaid coverage two years ago, Gov. Pat McCrory said he couldn’t do it because the system was broken. Two consecutive years into positive fund balances, it doesn’t look broken anymore, does it? Where, then, is the expansion initiative, which would bring billions of federal dollars to North Carolina, insure hundreds of thousands of residents without coverage and likely save some rural hospitals from shutting down?”

Commentary

Medicaid expansionFor years now, poor and working North Carolinians who would benefit greatly from Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act have been held hostage as Governor McCrory procrastinated and offered excuses. First, the Guv claimed that the Medicaid system itself was “broken” and in need of repair before it could be expanded. Then, he claimed that it would be inappropriate to act until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of the ACA itself.

Today, McCrory is running out of excuses. The Supreme Court took care of the constitutionality question a few weeks ago and yesterday, McCrory himself laid Excuse #1 to rest.

According to a statement from the Governor’s office, Medicaid is now in the black:

“The Department of Health and Human Services reported today that the North Carolina Medicaid program ended the 2014-15 state fiscal year with $130.7 million cash on hand. This is the second consecutive year the Medicaid program has finished with cash on hand.”

What’s more, that surplus is more than enough to cover state costs of implementing expansion. As a December 2014 study from health policy wonks at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University reported (see page 15), expansion will actually save the state more than $300 million over the next five years. In 2020, however, there will be a modest net cost to the state of $91.7 million.

The obvious takeaway? Even if the state flushed away the savings that expansion will bring between now and 2020, it can easily cover the modest bump in costs in 2020 merely by socking away the current surplus.

Not surprisingly, however, the Guv is already moving the goalposts. Read More

News

An annual audit of North Carolina’s compliance with federal human services programs uncovered significant issues at the state’s health agency, including overpaying for Medicaid services and skipping a background check for adoptive parents.

The audit released on March 31 found problems with nearly every program they checked at the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, from administration of the federal food stamps program to Medicaid billing and neglecting to spend a federal grant to help AIDS and HIV patients.

DHHSA DHHS spokeswoman said the agency has worked under in recent years under Secretary Aldona Wos to improve the management of federal programs, and plans on addressing the issues highlighted in the audit.

“The department has made significant progress improving its operations over the past two years and we continue to value the role that audits can play in further enabling us to do so,” DHHS spokeswoman Alex Lefebvre wrote in an emailed response to questions. “This annual audit will be used by the department to continue on the path of improved effectiveness.”

There were other findings that didn’t point to wasted money, but may have put children’s safety at risk.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services didn’t check to make sure prospective adoptive parents were clear of prior abuse allegations, by checking a registry of abuse and neglect allegations.

“The Department did not monitor that the child abuse registry was checked before a child was placed for adoption,” the federal compliance audit stated. “As a result, children could be placed in an unsafe environment.”

DHHS, in the response contained in the audit, said it thought county-level officials had ensured the abuse and neglect check had been done. Criminal background checks were conducted.

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Commentary

Medicaid expansionIn case you missed it over the weekend Ned Barnett of Raleigh’s News & Observer had an on-the-money column about the latest  bizarre claim from the McCrory administration that we can now expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act because they have “fixed” what was a “broken” system. As Barnett notes:

“It’s good news that the governor is now open to doing the right thing about Medicaid expansion. Even Tillis now says he might favor it. Refusing to do it could cost the state $51 billion in lost federal money over the next decade, according to a report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

But this change of position shouldn’t pass without a look at the rationale for not doing it in the first place. Wos’ reign at DHHS has been marked by massive provider payment problems, an exodus of staff, plummeting morale and expensive consultants hired to fill in the gaps. Now she’s saying that the administration of Medicaid has been fixed and it’s ready to take on a half-million new recipients.

If that turnaround is true, Wos has accomplished an amazing feat of introducing efficiency and accountability. Yet there’s nothing to suggest that is the case. DHHS under Wos remains an agency riddled by vacancies and burdened by a reputation for administrative dysfunction that has discouraged top applicants. But the Medicaid program itself was never “broken”. It has operated in North Carolina for decades and in recent years has successfully held down administrative costs compared with the national average. Medicaid’s “out-of-control costs,” which Republican legislators say busted the state budget, reflect wishful budgeting. Simply putting a number in the budget won’t hold down costs. People need treatment, and when there’s a recession Medicaid rolls grow. With the economy now improving, Medicaid costs are coming in under budget.”

In other words: It’s great that McCrory and Wos want to expand Medicaid and even fine if they want to delude themselves about the reasoning, but anyone who’s been paying attention knows their claims and rationales are bogus.
News

After last night’s historic ruling legalizing same-sex marriages in North Carolina, one county register of deeds says the McCrory administration unnecessarily delayed releasing gender-neutral marriage license forms.

Wake Register of Deeds Laura Riddick (photo from Riddick's office)

Wake Register of Deeds Laura Riddick (Photo from Riddick’s office)

Laura Riddick, a Republican first elected to county office in 1996, released a statement Friday saying that the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services refused her earlier requests for a copy of an existing gender-neural marriage license. DHHS is led by Aldona Wos, a Greensboro physician and wealthy Republican fundraiser appointed by Gov. Pat McCrory in January 2013.

Riddick kept her office open until after 9 p.m. Friday evening to issue marriage licenses after U.S. District Court Judge Max Cogburn Jr.’s order at around 5:30 p.m. that night declaring North Carolina’s ban on gay marriages unconstitutional.

Some of the first legal gay couples to marry in the state did outside Riddick’s office, including Wake County Sheriff Department employees Chad Briggs and Chris Creech who exchanged their vows as local news stations broadcast the union on live television.

Riddick, along with other Registers of Deeds across the state, hoped to have her department’s computer systems updated and ready when the expected federal court order legalizing same-sex marriages came down. (Click here for background on issue.)

DHHS withholding the form was “neither justified nor professional,” Riddick said in a statement.

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