DHHS chief Wos takes costly route to fix Medicaid

April 18, 2014 

There’s a doctor in the house at the state Department of Health and Human Services. But Aldona Wos, DHHS secretary, isn’t crazy about explaining how she’s healing a supposedly broken DHHS, even when the questions come from the General Assembly.

Wos told a legislative oversight committee this week that a $3 million, no-bid contract with the Washington firm Alvarez & Marsal is needed so the company can straighten out the state’s Medicaid program, the health plan for the poor and disabled.

Some lawmakers have their doubts. One of them, state Sen. Tommy Tucker, a Republican from Union County, expressed a sentiment many North Carolinians and even some lawmakers probably shared: “If I believed in reincarnation, and I don’t, I’d love to come back as a consultant for $3 million.” That comment was pointed, of course, and in fact Wos has been on the grill with lawmakers before, some of them expressing doubts about how the department is being run and showing their dissatisfaction.

Wos, who with her husband has raised and given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican candidates, does not take kindly to criticism.

Case in point: Tucker asked why DHHS hired an expensive consultant instead of having its own employees work on the restructuring of Medicaid.

Wos said, “We have to do our daily work. As you see, we would love to be at our desks working, but we’re here to provide you with the information you request.” Wow. In other words: You’re bugging me.

Of course, some desks at DHHS have been emptied since Wos took over. Key personnel have departed the agency, which has seemed endlessly mired in controversy. There have been computer problems that caused chaos in the food stamp program, for one example.

And Wos hired a couple of Gov. Pat McCrory’s campaign aides at $85,000-plus salaries, though they were both in their 20s and neither seemed to have expertise on health issues.

The governor has defended Wos down the line, either because he really believes she’s doing a good job, because he appreciates her political support or perhaps because he’s not interested in knowing the operational details of this most important state government agency.

Nothing that happens seems to matter. Not that Wos hired an employee of a company owned by her husband at a six-figure consultant’s job. Not that she hired former Republican State Auditor Les Merritt on a contract that could run over $300,000 a year.

And now, not that an out-of-state company is getting $3 million to fix something that needs to be fixed from the inside, by people who will be overseeing it once the fixes are made.

Speaking of fixes, wasn’t it McCrory who campaigned, twice, on the issue that state goverment was broken and he was the person to fix it? So far, at least at DHHS, the department has been like an old Studebaker sitting under a shade tree with lots of people looking at it and talking about it – but nobody can get it started.

Meanwhile, Wos seems to be hiring more and more mechanics at hefty rates.

With the governor’s fellow Republicans appearing to grow impatient with this department, how much longer will he continue to do virtually nothing? He and his fellow Republicans vowed to run a tighter, more efficient ship to save taxpayers money. Instead, the spending spree on consultants continues at DHHS.

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