Dr. Aldona Wos, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, told a General Assembly health oversight committee Tuesday something that encapsulates how basic the problems are in her department.
“I continue to stress to our team, and our vendor, that we must get providers paid for the work they do,” she said.
Pay people for the work they do. That seems fundamental and yet for DHHS it’s a goal the secretary must stress and one not yet fully accomplished.
The issue is payments to some 70,000 Medicaid providers who have had their payments delayed or claims rejected under a new computer system – NCTracks. Wos launched the new system on July 1. More than four months later, prompt payments are still a problem.
Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt, an Asheville Democrat, looked over charts provided by DHHS and said he couldn’t see any progress. “From these numbers and what I’m hearing here, I don’t think we’re fixing the problem,” he said.
DHHS statistics show NCTracks is still not functioning well. For the week of Nov. 1, NCTracks was approving claims from doctors’ offices at a rate of nearly 66 percent compared with 78 percent under the old system.
This prolonged period of slow payments and rejected claims is more than a matter of inconvenience. Some providers have had to borrow to meet payrolls. More significantly, some are getting fed up and getting out of the provider network.
Meanwhile, the delays and confusion over Medicaid payments are making it hard for the General Assembly’s fiscal analysts to project the annual cost of Medicaid.
What is particularly galling about the NCTracks mess is it was unnecessary. There was no urgency to launch the new system on July 1, especially after the state auditor raised flags about whether it had been properly tested. Yet Wos and the McCrory administration went ahead for a penny-wise-pound-foolish reason: to avoid the cost of paying for the old system and the new system at the same time.
So the state saved money and Medicaid providers paid dearly in lost compensation, uncertainty and frustration.
What Wos should have told lawmakers was: “We thought we were being frugal and instead we were reckless and it has cost everyone a great deal. I take responsibility. I apologize. And I’m determined to keep learning from my mistakes to fulfill the mission of my department.”
Instead, she told the committee, “I assure you that where necessary, I will hold people accountable.”
Excepting herself, of course.