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No DHHS posturing; fix problems now

As a bipartisan N.C. legislative oversight panel convenes Tuesday to discuss the problems dogging the Department of Health and Human Services, lawmakers should heed the words of these two medical professionals:

From William Pully, the president of the N.C. Hospital Association, in a recent letter sent to DHHS officials: “Hospitals and other providers continue to experience serious problems with NCTracks (the computer system launched July 1 to process Medicaid claims). (Hospitals are facing) issues that not only impact their operations, but also will affect the state’s cash flow in the Medicaid budget if not resolved with dispatch.”

Added Robert Seligson, chief executive of the N.C. Medical Society: “Instead of the system improvements and increased efficiencies that have been promised since July, the same problems continue to impede the ability of physicians to deliver care in the Medicaid program... Many problems in NCTracks go beyond simple technical glitches, and the medical community is losing confidence (in the ability of the vendor DHHS hired) to resolve these problems. In the meantime, physicians are being forced to choose between risking the future of their clinics and limiting the number of Medicaid patients that they serve. Something must be done immediately to get NCTracks functioning properly.”

The urgent need for solutions is clear. The troubled implementation of the Medicaid processing system known as NCTracks, and an equally problematic roll out of NC FAST, the state’s new benefits distribution system that handles food stamps and other such services, is hurting businesses and residents. No time should be wasted Tuesday posturing and painting rosy, misleading pictures of what is going on, nor in pointing fingers in a fruitless game of pin the blame.

That, of course, will be the inclination. Already, many Democrats and Republicans have retreated to their corners on this matter. Gov. Pat McCrory, his staff and some other Republicans have downplayed the problems, noting that they inherited from Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue an agency that was plagued with problems. NCTracks and NC FAST were approved before his administration took over, and the issues originated with Perdue’s administration.

Some Democrats, of course, have seized on the three-month long mess as another knock against McCrory’s chosen leader of DHHS, Aldona Wos, and the governor’s determined push to privatize the state’s Medicaid program.

There are problems with both. Wos has been widely criticized for high-salaried crony hires, including a business associate of her husband and two 24-year-old former McCrory campaign workers with inadequate experience or qualifications for their jobs. An ethical wrinkle surfaced about her hires and about McCrory’s privatization effort when Wos’ Medicaid director recently resigned after eight months. Carol Steckel, who was hired to set up the privatization plan, left for a job with a Florida company that reportedly has an interest in running the N.C. program. This high-profile exit and others are leading some critics to question whether the McCrory administration is becoming a brief way station to funnel state business to selected private entities.

But politics should remain a backdrop to the need expressed by medical professionals and others to get to the bottom of the DHHS systems’ problems. Those problems are putting N.C. companies out of business because the state hasn’t paid their Medicaid claims and sending families to food banks because they haven’t gotten their benefit checks. This week, lawmakers must demand better and quicker action to fix these problems.

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