State lawmakers seek answers on NC DHHS technology, salaries

lbonner@newsobserver.comOctober 7, 2013 

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos, foreground, attends a press conference with Gov. Pat McCrory Jan. 31, 2013, in Raleigh.

ETHAN HYMAN — ehyman@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

  • If you want to go

    The Joint Legislative Oversight Committees on Health and Human Services and Information Technology will take public comments at its meeting. Anyone who wants to speak will have to sign in. The meeting starts at 8 a.m. in room 643 of the Legislative Office Building, 300 N. Salisbury St.

— Legislative meetings Tuesday have elements of a scripted drama, where the aggrieved meet their antagonists, and a department head under fire gets to explain faulty technology and high agency salaries.

The hashing out of problems and controversies that have hit the state Department of Health and Human Services this year are being rolled into an all-day meeting where health care providers will come face to face with an officer in the computer firm running the system that’s failing to deliver their payments. Tech company representatives will be on hand to explain why food-stamp delivery doesn’t work statewide. DHHS Secretary Dr. Aldona Wos is set to address the technology stumbles and give her reasons for offering high salaries to 24-year-old former campaign aides to Gov. Pat McCrory, and a high-dollar personal services contract to a vice president in her husband’s company.

“We look forward to using all the time allotted to get to the bottom of this mess,” said Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt, an Asheville Democrat.

NC Tracks, the computer system built and operated by Computer Sciences Corp., has been an ongoing headache for doctors and other health care providers since its launch in July. Lawmakers set up a panel of providers to talk about the system, and CSC Vice President Mike Gaffney will address the committee.

Rep. Jason Saine, co-chairman of the Information Technology committee, said he expects the panel to be a mix of people who like NC Tracks and those who hate it. “We want to have the right forum to have feedback so we get a good overview,” said Saine, a Lincolnton Republican. “We understand it’s a hot topic. We just want to know how quickly we can deliver the services to the people who need it.”

Doctors who depend on NC Tracks for Medicaid payments want that information, too. That’s why about 100 answered an invitation from the N.C. Medical Society to attend the meeting for a first-hand update and the chance to tell legislators about the hurdles they face getting paid.

Sen. Gladys Robinson, a Guilford County Democrat, is looking for improvement plans for both NC Tracks and food stamps. People are showing up at food banks in record numbers because the government assistance they rely on is not being delivered.

“We need dates where changes are going to be made and how that’s going to be transmitted out to the agencies,” she said.

The Medicaid payment problems have made state spending on the government health insurance program for the poor, elderly and disabled harder to track. Legislators have kept a close eye on Medicaid spending for the last few years by looking at the total payments going to providers. But the pile of unpaid bills has thrown off estimates.

“There’s some concern there,” said Justin Burr, an Albemarle Republican and co-chairman of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services.

That’s why both the Office of State Budget and Management and DHHS were asked to talk about the budget, he said.

The morning session includes a public comment period. Time was set aside for legislators’ questions in the morning and afternoon.

Burr said he’ll allow all legislator questions that stick to topics under discussion, and will give Wos the chance to respond.

Bonner: 919-829-4821

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