Cummings to manage state Medicaid

lbonner@newsobserver.comFebruary 11, 2014 

  • State says it met food stamp deadline

    The state has beaten the federal deadline for reducing its food stamp application backlog, DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos said Tuesday.

    Working together, state and county staff cut the stack of longest-waiting applications from more than 18,000 to 25. The U.S. Department of Agriculture gave the state a deadline of Feb. 10 to finish. Wos said the remaining 25 are pending with “good cause.”

    The federal government was so alarmed by the state’s growing food stamp application backlog that it threatened to cut off the federal money the state uses to administer the program, about $88 million a year.

    The ultimatum set off a frenzy. The state deployed more workers to counties to assist local staff. Staff worked overtime and through weekends. Volunteers, legislators and legislative assistants helped. Workers in some counties went to applicants’ homes to ask for more information to complete their paperwork.

    Wos could not answer questions from legislators about the cost to counties for all the overtime.

    The federal government pays half the counties’ costs to administer the food stamp program, and counties pay half.

    While the counties have taken a big bite out of the backlog, they still have more than 1,100 applications that haven’t been processed on time. The state proposes to clear the rest of the backlog by March 31.

Dr. Robin Cummings will lead the effort to improve Medicaid operations in the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Cummings, who is already the deputy secretary of health services and acting state health director, will not be the permanent Medicaid director. The department continues to look for a permanent replacement for former director Carol Steckel.

But Cummings will manage the Medicaid division, and acting Medicaid director Sandy Terrell will report to him, said department spokeswoman Julie Henry.

There’s been a leadership vacuum in the department for some time, Henry said, and Cummings’ appointment is meant to address it.

He will be the point man interacting with the two contractors the state hired to work in Medicaid. The state awarded a $3.25 million, no-bid contract to Alvarez & Marcel to help manage the $13 billion Medicaid program. The department says it does not have enough staff to handle the job.

Cummings, a former cardiovascular surgeon, said he is not a Medicaid expert but sees himself as going into the division “as more of a manager, as someone to go in and try to pull the expertise and talent that is within Medicaid, combine it with the skills that we’re bringing to bear with the organizational experts we’re bringing on board, and try to get everyone on the same page and working together.”

Navigant Healthcare received a no-bid state contract worth nearly $500,000 to assess the Medicaid program integrity and audit section.

The Medicaid division was highlighted in a DHHS presentation on staffing at a legislative committee meeting Tuesday. Nearly 20 percent of jobs in the division are vacant, 81 of 413, said Mark Gogal, the agency’s human resources director.

An agency “redesign” indicates a need for fewer program specialists and more financial, budget and contract managers, Gogal said.

DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos announced Cummings’ appointment at the same meeting but would not answer specific questions about the decision during the committee break, other than to say Cummings is successful in all he does.

And he will have plenty to do.

As deputy secretary of health services, he oversees the public health, Medicaid, state hospitals and the mental health divisions, and the office of rural health. He will continue to hold his position as acting state health director.

The added Medicaid responsibility will not lead to a salary increase. He will continue to make his current salary of $220,000.

Cummings said the divisions he oversees have good directors, freeing up time to take on the new role in the Medicaid office.

Bonner: 919-829-4821; Twitter: @Lynn_Bonner

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