Perhaps the only assessment that can be made with any degree of certainty about the management of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services is that it’s a tough job with a lot of challenges.
That much was made clear last week during a background meeting at the Executive Mansion between newspaper editors and publishers and Gov. Pat McCrory and several members of his cabinet. According to terms set by the governor and his staff, we are not allowed to quote or name sources who participated in the briefing, but the administration went to great lengths to emphasize that DHHS is a huge department – 18,000 employees – that had key vacancies and a host of computer glitches before Secretary Aldona Wos took her position last January.
It would be premature to assess Wos’ performance barely 10 months into the job, but it’s clear that the department faces big issues on several different levels. That much has been a theme in the press and, reportedly, during an all-day meeting earlier this week with North Carolina legislators from both parties.
Leaving aside, for a moment, some of the questions that have arisen over high-profile hires and salary decisions made by Wos, the department has come under fire by health care providers for continuous payment delays related to Medicaid and by social services administrators for lengthy waits on food stamps benefits to poor people.
As a candidate last year, McCrory called the Medicaid process “broken,” an assessment that seemed to be supported by an audit earlier this year, in which the administrative costs for the program in North Carolina were reported to be considerably higher than they have been in other states. But further study of the Medicaid administrative costs now suggest that assessment was exaggerated.
So are the problems at DHHS core issues? Or are they politically manufactured to ease McCrory’s proposal to outsource key administrative services to private companies?
The answers to those questions are shaded by partisanship, but it’s good to see legislators asking the questions.
Health care reimbursements and food for the poor are too important to neglect.