This year North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services has remained under the spotlight of the General Assembly, as well as the residents of the state. DHHS has faced many issues over the last year; ranging from potential sanctions from the federal government due to backlogs with the food stamp program to legislators questioning the ability of the leadership of the agency. Now DHHS Secretary Dr. Aldona Wos is preparing to face the joint oversight committee to discuss multiple issues regarding the status of the agency. The most serious topics of discussion are things such as: updates on restructuring of DHHS, costly contracts for consultants, ongoing issues with the NC Fast (food stamp program), reviewing fiscal performance for 2013-2014, and reviewing the overall budget for Medicaid.
Both Democrats and Republicans share some of the same concerns when it comes to DHHS. While other concerns are split between the two parties. Democrats seem to have their sights set on obtaining answers to the inability of DHHS to completely resolve the backlog with the NC Fast and NC Tracks applications and their ongoing software issues. The Republican leaders are more concerned with the lack of predictability regarding Medicaid costs for the state and they are also proposing privatizing Medicaid. The oversight committee will also be looking into the accuracy of fiscal data that has been presented previously and recently regarding whether or not DHHS ended fiscal year 2013-2014 with a surplus or not. Secretary Wos recently informed legislators with reports stating that the Medicaid program had a surplus of $63 million. However in April, the CFO of DHHS projected a shortfall in the ballpark of $120-140 million for the same fiscal year. Which leaves many legislators questioning how Secretary Wos obtained her figures and whether or not the data they are provided is accurate or not. http://goo.gl/ZELxw7
Some Republicans have suggested that the state’s Medicaid program no longer remain under the control of DHHS. In addition to removing Medicaid from DHHS’ control, there have also been suggestions that a new state governed agency be created to provide oversight for Medicaid. Secretary Wos disagrees with the suggestion to remove Medicaid from DHHS. Her rationale is that removing the Medicaid program from DHHS would undermine plans to restructure the entire agency, which would be the first major overhaul of DHHS since the late 70’s. Under the Secretary’s restructuring plans, DHHS would create five separate divisions that would create an agency that can better serve the residents of North Carolina. http://goo.gl/bSr318
There seems to be concerns across the board regarding many aspects of what is going on with DHHS. Hopefully in the upcoming hearings and meetings held by the joint oversight committee there will be some clarification on many of the issues that surround DHHS. Whatever happens Secretary Wos should be prepared to not only answer the many questions and concerns of the committee members, but also be prepared to provide data/evidence to support what she is reporting. Otherwise concerns about DHHS will continue to linger in the minds of committee members and the residents of North Carolina.
Earlier this year on February 11th many North Carolinians took a deep sigh of relief; when the NC Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Alona Woss declared that NC had met the February 10th deadline imposed by the United States Department of Agriculture and the goals they had outlined that the state needed to meet. http://www.ncdhhs.gov/pressrel/2014/2014-02-14_FINS_deadline_met.htm At that time the USDA imposed the deadline, it also warned the state failure to meet the deadline could result in the state losing $88 million in federal funding, which the state uses to pay for administrative costs associated with running the food & nutrition Services programs for the state.
Unfortunately its been about 30 days and the state is now facing another deadline, again imposed by the USDA, and again the state stands to lose $88 million in federal funding. This time the USDA is mandating that NC handle any applications that have been waiting to be processed for 30 days or more (which is considered “untimely”, legally applications are supposed to be processed within 30 days) and process all emergency requests for assistance that have been waiting more than 7 days. Secretary Woss gave a report to the NC Legislative Oversight Committee on March 12th and at that time she reported that the state had made progress in decreasing the number of backlogged food stamp applications to 1,700. She also continued to point out that counties are doing everything they can to clear the backlog. However she also pointed out that there are still things that are hindering the process of clearing the backlog. http://www.news-record.com/news/local_news/article_011ec218-b6b5-11e3-bead-0017a43b2370.html
The Legislative Oversight Committee called a meeting this past Wednesday March 26th to get an update on the current state of affairs and to also hear about a new development. During the meeting on the 26th Secretary Woss shared the new information with the committee that she had just learned earlier that morning. Officials from Guilford County Department of Social Services contacted the state Wednesday morning to in form them that the numbers they reported to the state on Monday March 24th (which was 24 “untimely” applications.) http://www.news-record.com/news/article_bb4ad888-b5bc-11e3-80f3-001a4bcf6878.html Actually an analyst for the state discovered that there were over 8,000 applications that were backlogged in Guilford County. http://www.wfmynews2.com/story/news/local/2014/03/28/guilford-county-backlog-investigation/6995009/
Today with a little time to spare the Director of Guilford County’s DSS announced that his agency had met the deadline. Unfortunately several hours earlier Guilford County DSS Director Robert Williams also announced that he was resigning. http://www.wfmynews2.com/story/news/local/2014/03/31/guilford-county-dss-director-robert-williams-resigns/7117287/ Director Williams explained previously that he was under the impression that there were 3,100 backlogged cases and he was made aware of the discrepancy in the numbers when the state analyst discovered it last week. Once again North Carolinians can breathe yet another sigh of relief. The USDA will not be withholding $88 million in federal funding for the state. The question still remains- is the NC Fast system the right system for the state? And regardless of the fact that once again the state met another USDA deadline; what’s going to keep this from happening again, in another county? The one thing each of these situations have in common, is the system they are entering the information into.