For much of the summer, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services has been in a political crosshairs, with attention focused on high salaries, political patronage and questionable qualifications.
But while Democrats lick their chops over the political capital that might be gleaned from trouble in a department with big dollar signs, there’s a much more fundamental concern growing with how well the department is delivering services to those who need them most.
The issue might have come to a head this week with the resignation of Carol Steckel, just eight months after she took office as director of the state’s Medicaid program.
Steckel came on board with clear marching orders. Gov. Pat McCrory more than once has described the state’s Medicaid program as “broken.” Steckel’s charge was to fix it, largely by tapping the management expertise of private insurers. Steckel seemed well-suited for the task, having made similar changes to the Medicaid program in Louisiana before taking the position in North Carolina.
But the plan for partial privatization has met resistance from several state legislators, and to listen to doctors and other health care providers who rely on Medicaid reimbursements, the program is a giant mess. Many have complained they have had problems getting paid at all. Calls asking for help from the Department of Health and Human Services haven’t resulted in much of a difference.
To be fair, the problems began long before McCrory took office last January. The department inherited a computer system that experienced major snafus during Gov. Bev Perdue’s administration. Fixing those issues has taken longer than expected, but the consequences of those delays are having a disastrous effect on the cash flow of health care providers, especially those in rural areas.
Add those problems to glitches the department has experienced trying to deliver benefits on time to food stamps recipients, and suddenly, the state’s poor and those who provide health care services to the poor have a real crisis on their hands.
Never mind the patronage issues, it’s past time for the governor, DHHS and the N.C. General Assembly to fix the problems.