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The state’s health agency revealed its proposal yesterday of how to it wants to overhaul the state’s Medicaid system, giving a broad outline that appeased doctor and hospital groups and backed away from earlier promises of a privatized system.

In a meeting held Wednesday for a Medicaid reform advisory group, N.C. Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos and her staff said they would, with the legislature’s blessing, move to a  model using Accountable Care Organizations (which can be groups of medical practices or hospital systems) to manage Medicaid patients physical health needs.

DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos

DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos

“What we are presenting today is a realistic and achievable plan that puts patients first, helps create a sustainable Medicaid program, and builds on what we have in North Carolina,” Wos said, in a press release about Wednesday’s meeting. “This proposal represents a fundamental improvement in how the state delivers Medicaid.”

Wos will present the plan March 17 to lawmakers, any changes will also need federal approval.

(Scroll down or click here to read the two-page handout on the proposal.)

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The director of the N.C. Health and Human Services’ troubled public benefits technology and food stamp system is leaving his state position for a job in private industry.

Anthony Vellucci, the program director for N.C. FAST (Families Accessing Services Through Technology) is leaving for a job in private industry, according to a DHHS news release sent out late Wednesday afternoon.

He is taking a position with Maryland-based EngagePoint, a private healthcare and IT software company, and his last day with DHHS is March 7.

Vellucci, 40, was making $168,000 a year, including a $23,384 raise he received from Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos in June in order to counter a job offer. Vellucci’s raise was one of several $20,000-plus raises for top DHHS officials after N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory called for a salary freeze for state workers.

NC FAST has encountered significant issues over the last year, and the months-long delays for food stamps for thousands of struggling North Carolinians led the U.S. Department of Agriculture to threaten withdrawing administrative funding from the state. (Click here for more information about the backlog.)

The state agency had just met a Feb. 10 deadline set by USDA to resolve the backlog of thousands of high-priority food stamps cases, and is facing another deadline on March 31 to reduce the remaining backlog of cases.

Vellucci first came to DHHS in 2010, during Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue’s administration.

Angela Taylor, a DHHS employee since 1995 who joined the NC FAST team in August, will take over as NC FAST’s interim director.

 

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N.C. Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos announced at a legislative hearing this morning that her department met a federal deadline yesterday to clear a backlog of families waiting for emergency food assistance.

Wos told lawmakers that “Herculean efforts” were used by county-based and state workers to address more than 23,000 households that, in late January, had been waiting weeks or months for federally-funded food stamps.

DHHS used 290 state state, hired temporary workers, made home visits and used volunteer time offered by a handful of legislative assistants to meet the deadline, she said.

She said there were only 25 cases remaining of the thousands the U.S. Department of Agriculture called to be eliminated. The federal agency threatened withholding $80 million in funding in December and January if North Carolina didn’t quickly address the issue.

The logjam of cases first began popping up last spring as the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services implemented pieces of a complex benefits delivery system called NC FAST that county-level workers had difficulty maneuvering or even getting to work in some case.

“I can assure you that DHHS will continue to work as aggressively as we have,” Wos said.

While both Republican and Democratic lawmakers said they were pleased the vast majority of the backlog had been handled, some expressed concern about how long it took the state agency to ensure needy families were getting food.

“I’m very gratified that we finally have this backlog behind us,” said state Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham Democrat. “The thing that disappoints me that is that it took seven months to address the backlog and we had several thousand people harmed in the process.”

Updated caseload numbers are available here and here. The USDA deadline for the agency was to clear a backlog of cases of the most hard-pressed families, many of them  in emergency situations.

The agency will need to clear the entire backlog or food stamp applications and recertifications by March 31, currently at 14,333 recertifications and 754 applications, according to DHHS documents. (13,821 of the recertifications are only one to 14 days behind, and are considered “timely” by DHHS and USDA)

Below is the letter that Wos sent to USDA officials yesterday.

USDA February 10 2014 by NC Policy Watch

 

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The backlog of North Carolina’s food stamps applications is continuing to go down, as county and state health and human services workers put in overtime to meet a Monday deadline set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Revised numbers released Tuesday by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services  how that there are still more than 4,000 applications pending statewide, including more than 800 that have pending for more than three months.

Click here and here to see DHHS’ county breakdowns of the existing backlog.

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DHHSAs Chris Fitzsimon points out in this morning’s “Monday Numbers” edition of the Fitzsimon File, the flubs just keep on coming at Aldona Wos’ Department of Health and Human Services:

4—number of days since the federal government sent a letter to state DHHS officials saying North Carolina would lose federal funding for operations of the state food stamp program if problems and case backlogs were not addressed in two weeks (“Federal money for food stamp management could be suspended in March, News & Observer January 24, 2014)

30—number of days that food stamp applications must be processed under federal law (Ibid)

20,243—number of food stamp claims in North Carolina that have been waiting more than 30 days as of January 24 (“USDA issues more warnings to state health agency, WRAL-TV, January 24, 2014)

11,493—number of food stamp claims that have been pending more than 60 days as of January 24 (Ibid)

8,002—number of food stamp claims that have been pending more than 90 days as of January 24 (Ibid)

5,934—number of food stamp claims that have been pending more than 120 days as of January 24 (Ibid)

8,963—number of cases in which deadline was missed that are hardship cases, where families have very little income (“Federal money for food stamp management could be suspended in March, News & Observer January 24, 2014)

Read the letter from the feds by clicking here . Read the entire column by clicking here.