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Wos-and-Nichol

DHHS Secretary Dr. Aldona Wos (left), and Gene Nichol of the UNC School of Law (right)

If you missed it over the weekend, there are two-must read stories on where North Carolina stands in expanding Medicaid.

The Winston Salem Journal’s Richard Craver had a sit down interview with state DHHS Secretary Dr. Aldona Wos, in which Wos said she would “soon” be recommending expanding the state Medicaid program to Gov. Pat McCrory.

So, how soon is soon? Craver writes:

“Everyone needs to know that Medicaid expansion is complicated,” Wos said, slowing down to pronounce each syllable in “complicated.” “There is no flipping of a switch.”

She said physical and behavioral health care system expansion must come first so the system is able to absorb additional participants.

“Our state has to have industry adapt to providing enough health-care providers, and that is a process,” Wos said.

Wos said a key element of building DHHS’ foundation is “getting new skills in finance, economists and actuaries, that are absolutely critical to our organization.”

“If I am allowed to continue on this path, I guarantee you we will have that foundation. The rest of the process is building upon that foundation with standards, with flexibility built in.”

“We’re not too far away. Soon.”

Gene Nichol,  director of the UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity,  – who does not speak for UNC – wrote in Saturday’s Raleigh News & Observer that the longer the state goes without expanding Medicaid, the more lives are lost.

Here’s an excerpt from Nichol’s opinion piece:

‘The consequences for poor people of being excluded from health care coverage are real and dramatic. Losses in health, losses in emotional well-being, losses in financial capacity, losses in opportunity. And, for some, it’s worse.

A recent Harvard study indicates a significant number of our sisters and brothers will experience premature and preventable deaths as a result of the General Assembly’s rejection of Medicaid expansion. Many “low-income women will forgo breast and cervical cancer screenings, diabetics will (fail to receive) necessary medications,” blood pressure pills and other preventative measures will be denied, “diagnosis and treatment of depression” will be diminished.

As a result, the scholars estimate, the number of Tar Heels who will perish at the hand of our politics may well exceed a thousand a year. The wound inflicted by the Medicaid vote is grievous, deep and sometimes mortal.

I’ve wondered how it feels to cast a vote that means thousands might needlessly die. I can’t get my arms around it. Looking in the mirror must become tougher duty. I can see not wanting to dwell on it.

But when you make a decision that means people may lose their lives, surely you have to do more than offer empty slogans and nonsense-laden talking points to defend it. Surely you have to show you’ve done something more than merely taken instruction, more than mindlessly repeated what you’ve been told – like some malfunctioning teleprompter.

At least you ought to show that you’ve thought it through for yourself. That you’re not just siding with one gang or the other or proving your antipathy for various adversaries.

When politics becomes lethal, responsibility ascends.’

Read the full story in the Winston-Salem Journal here, and the full Point of View column by Nichol here in the News & Observer.

(Note: Nichol is a board member of the N.C. Justice Center, the larger anti-poverty non-profit that N.C. Policy Watch is a part of).
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The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services announced this afternoon that an architect of a stalled Medicaid reform plan is leaving the state agency.

Margaret “Mardy” Peal, 43, was hired in August 2013 by Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos despite having been out of the work force for more than a decade, according to a News & Observer article published shortly after Peal’s hire.

The job was not posted, and was a newly created position to look at privatizing the state’s complex $13 billion Medicaid program, which is funded with a mix of state and federal dollars and provides health care for low-income children and their parents, seniors and disabled residents.

Peal, who has a master’s in health education and lectured at East Carolina University’s medical school on patient care in the late 1990s, had donated $1,250 to Gov. Pat McCrory’s campaign, according to the N&O article. She also organized the Eastern North Carolina chapter of the Tea Party.

She made $95,000 a year in her DHHS position to help the agency develop a reform proposal for the state’s $13 billion Medicaid program. Peal’s hire last year came while Wos was facing criticism for giving big raises to several inexperienced McCrory campaign staffers.

The agency, at the urging of doctor and other medical provider groups, ultimately proposed parceling out Medicaid health care responsibilities to accountable care organizations (ACOs) around the state but the agency plan failed to get the backing of leading Senate Republicans who wanted to take Medicaid out from under DHHS and open it up to bids from managed care companies.

In a statement, state Medicaid Director Dr. Robin Cummings thanked Peal for her work and emphasized that the state agency planned on pursuing its approach to Medicaid reform.

“Working with doctors, hospitals and other healthcare providers and stakeholders across the state, DHHS will continue to pursue our Medicaid Reform plan,” Cummings said, according to a written statement.

In her Aug. 25 resignation letter (click here to read), Peal wrote that she was grateful for the experience working at DHHS but an unspecified opportunity in the private sector would allow her to spend more time with family.

“At this point in my family’s life, it is necessary that I spend a greater percentage of my time with them,” Peal wrote. “An opportunity presented itself that would allow me more time at home, and I have chose to pursue it.”

 

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MedicaidAs Governor McCrory and his HHS Secretary Aldona Wos convene a rather strange closed door “listening  session” on Medicaid in Greensboro today (it’s scheduled to last all of 45 minutes), let’s hope they both took the time over the weekend to read an excellent, “from-the-trenches” essay by Goldsboro physician Dr. David Tayloe in Raleigh’s News & ObserverIn it, Tayloe explains the importance of preserving and improving North Carolina’s homegrown “medical home” model for delivering Medicaid services (Community Care of North Carolina) rather than falling for the false promises of out-of-state HMO companies that have been trying to muscle their way into the state.

CCNC is rooted in care coordinated by providers, not insurance corporations. By keeping care decisions in the hands of those most qualified to make them, medical home models improve health outcomes for North Carolina’s Medicaid population. Doctors, care managers and pharmacists across provider-led networks share data and best practices to provide efficient and high-quality care to patients, decreasing emergency room visits and reducing wasteful spending.

The CCNC model is the result of decades of work that has consistently generated positive results in North Carolina. An HMO takeover of this system would mean higher administrative costs to the state and billions of taxpayer dollars leaving the state to pay corporate shareholders. Under federal Medicaid rules, the additional money required to pay HMOs can come from only one place – sharp cuts to provider payments. When physicians choose not to participate in Medicaid, patients neglect preventive care and head to the emergency room in crisis, raising state costs while producing less positive health outcomes. Read More

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MedicaidThere’s new and compelling evidence that North Carolina’s model for delivering Medicaid (Community Care North Carolina -CCNC) is a winner — notwithstanding the often-bumbling oversight provided by embattled state DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos and the attempt by Senate leaders to sell the program off to a private managed care company. (It’s worth noting that the flawed sell-off idea was once also touted by Gov. McCrory and Sec. Wos as well until the two gradually came to their senses over the past year).

Today, in a letter to state Medicaid directors throughout the country, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services at the national DHHS announced today that they are launching a new national collaborative initiative called the “Medicaid Innovation Accleerator Program.” The goal of initiative is “to improve care and improve health for Medicaid beneficiaries and reduce costs by supporting states in accelerating new payment and service delivery reforms.”

The letter announcing the initiative holds up three examples of state innovation success in Ohio, Washington and North Carolina. Here’s what it has to say about North Carolina: Read More

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Medicaid 3As state lawmakers and Gov. McCrory argue about ways to cut public outlays for Medicaid — the public health insurance system for people of low income — the lead editorials in North Carolina’s two largest newspapers offer some straightforward and compelling truths this morning that ought to guide their discussions:

1) Service cuts harm real people in need and 2)  Things ain’t gonna’ improve as long as Dr. Aldona Wos runs the show.

As Raleigh’s News & Observer reminds us, when legislators cut services to save money (even though, as the editorial notes, per person costs are down and quality of service is up) they make life hell for people like Mason Leonard and his mom Colleen:

“Mason Leonard, 14, of Cary is severely disabled. He was brain-damaged at birth and cannot care for himself. He can’t be left alone, can’t feed himself or look after any of his needs.

But thanks to a few Medicaid services, he receives therapy, gets out a little, gets trained in things like making his bed, which, when he accomplishes it, is considered a big step….

A Medicaid policy change last year, for example, eliminated weekend hours for teaching Mason how to function with basic skills. His mother understandably fears what new hardships further “reform” will produce.

Here is what the public needs to understand about the budget cutting and reform conducted under the banner of ‘efficiency.’ For each cut, for each decision to eliminate some benefit, a disabled person such as Mason Leonard or a poor person with no alternative for care except what Medicaid provides and their caregivers and family members suffer discomfort or pain.”

And then there’s this bit of plain truth from the Charlotte Observer: state Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos simply has to go. As the Observer notes: Read More