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Leading black legislators question DHHS as agency touts accomplishments

RALEIGH Leading black legislators are calling on the head of the Department of Health and Human Services to explain delays in Medicaid payments to providers, problems getting food stamps to the needy, and agency employee raises.

Members of the Legislative Black Caucus said at a news conference Wednesday that they were not receiving timely and accurate information about activities in the department. Their news conference came a few hours after DHHS distributed information touting the department’s accomplishments.

DHHS spokesman Ricky Diaz said the agency provides legislators with regular updates and will continue to do so.

The department has been under scrutiny for the past few months for personnel decisions and problems with expensive computer systems.

The department included on its list of accomplishments the Medicaid payment system called NC Tracks. The system continues to frustrate some providers who have trouble getting paid for patient care.

The lawmakers, all Democrats, sent their letter to Dr. Aldona Wos, the department’s secretary, and Gov. Pat McCrory. The letter was full of questions about NC Tracks and NC FAST, another computer system, which handles food assistance. The letter also asked questions about personnel matters.

The department has a personal services contract with Joe Hauck, a vice president in Wos’ husband’s firm, that has paid Hauck more than $228,000 for about eight months of work as an adviser.

Rep. Garland Pierce, a Scotland County Democrat and president of the Black Caucus, referred to the Hauck contract as one of the “questionable decisions made by her that almost call her integrity into question.”

Wos sent an email to a small group of legislators last week saying Hauck has done important work for the department. Black Caucus members said the email should have been widely distributed.

Legislators also questioned salaries and raises given to new staff and long-time top administrators.

Diaz explained that Wos walked into a department without a leadership team or a succession plan. She had to find top people quickly, he said.

“We have attracted talent to the department to take on these challenges,” Diaz said. Meanwhile, the agency has cut its payroll $23 million, he said.

Lawmakers said they need accurate information from DHHS because health care providers ask them when the agency’s computer problems will be fixed and because low-income people are going hungry.

Sen. Earline Parmon, a Winston-Salem Democrat, said she was on a conference call with Wos and others in the department about two weeks ago, where they offered a “glowing perspective” on the computer systems.

“A few minutes later, I got information that everything they told us was not factual,” Parmon said. “First of all, we need for them to sit with us and admit that there are problems.”

The legislators’ letter included a report from the Triangle Business Journal that said for the week ending Aug. 23, the department missed three of four targets for approved Medicaid claims and had a backlog of more than 90,000 items.

Diaz noted that the system has processed 29 million claims and paid out $1.4 billion.

The department told the public there would be a 60- to 90-day rough patch once NC Track started running, Diaz said.

“Those who are trained come to realize the benefits of it,” he said.

Bonner: 919-829-4821
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