Medicaid director heads to company that wants NC business

lbonner@newsobserver.comSeptember 24, 2013 

MEDICAIDTALKS-NE-051513-TEL

N.C. Medicaid Director Carol Steckel, left, and N.C. Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Aldona Wos speak before a packed ballroom during a meeting with healthcare professionals and members of the Medicaid recipient community in an effort to solicit feedback and input in the development of a final Medicaid plan Wednesday, May 15, 2013, at the Durham Hilton.

TRAVIS LONG — tlong@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— Medicaid Director Carol Steckel will spend her last weeks on the job cut off from the Medicaid planning she’s led for months.

Steckel is leaving her $210,000 state position to be senior director of public policy at WellCare Health Plans, which provides managed care plans for Medicaid and Medicare.

The state Department of Health and Human Services is working on a plan to transform Medicaid that will open the $13 billion government health insurance program for the poor, elderly and disabled to management by private companies. They call the plan the “Partnership for a Healthy North Carolina,” and Steckel had the lead role in creating it.

Soon after her departure was announced on Monday, Steckel sent an email to colleagues asking to be cut out of the loop.

“Please discontinue sending me any and all information regarding the Partnership activities, managed care and/or reform of the Medicaid system,” she wrote.

“If you have any questions regarding the Partnership please see Joe Hauck or Mardy Peal.”

DHHS spokesman Ricky Diaz said it was “an appropriate thing for her to do” since she’s going to a managed care company.

Hauck and Peal are senior advisers and both have come under scrutiny in recent weeks. Hauck because he was hired under a personal services contract that has paid him more than $228,000 for eight months’ work, and Peal because of her lack of recent experience.

Steckel could not be reached for comment.

She toured the state with DHHS secretary Dr. Aldona Wos this year, introducing and asking for suggestions on how to structure the proposed Medicaid plan.

Some legislators are wary of having 1.5 million people covered by Medicaid – mostly poor children, elderly and disabled adults, and about 150,000 children with government-subsidized health insurance called Health Choice – moved into managed care plans.

As leaders envision it, companies would bid to cover patients for a set payment per person, and two to four companies would win the chance to offer health insurance plans. DHHS officials are looking to integrate physical, mental and dental health, and slow the increase in Medicaid spending.

This year, for the first time, WellCare hired a lobbyist to work in the state. At least 19 lobbyists for managed care companies are registered with the state.

WellCare, based in Florida, has a Medicare prescription drug plan in the state. It also runs two Medicare managed care plans in Louisiana, where Steckel worked before moving to North Carolina.

Steckel’s new job raises the issue of the “revolving door” that has state officials moving to companies doing business with the state. “Whether it’s fair or not, it creates a perception that something is not quite proper,” said Bob Phillips, executive director at Common Cause North Carolina. If there were clear rules in place, Phillips said, such questions could be avoided.

His organization worked in 2007 for a law requiring a six-month “cooling off” period between the time legislators left office and the time they started lobbying, even though it was not as expansive as the group wanted.

Common Cause pushed for the law to also cover high-level state employees, Phillips said, but ran into stiff resistance.

Bonner: 919-829-4821

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