(pictured above: Dr. Aldona Wos, secretary of the state’s Department of Health and Human Services.)
Black legislators call for DHHS leader’s firing
In response to recent problems with the state’s Medicaid and food stamp programs, the NC Legislative Black Caucus is calling for the resignation of Dr. Aldona Wos, secretary of the state’s Department of Health and Human Services.
Caucus members held simultaneous press conferences Friday in Raleigh, Charlotte, Greensboro and Winston-Salem to voice their dismay over DHHS’s difficulties under Wos, a physician and former U.S. ambassador who was appointed by Gov. Pat McCrory soon after he took office in January 2013.
The Black Caucus says delays in Medicaid reimbursements and food stamp assistance under the new NC FAST system and the recent mailing of 48,752 Medicaid cards to the wrong addresses warrant Wos’ ouster.
“We’re asking the governor to have the courage to step forward and admit his secretary at this point … has shown not to be up to the task of leading this very difficult agency,” said N.C. Rep. Ed Hanes, who joined colleagues Rep. Evelyn Terry and Sen. Earline Parmon at the Winston-Salem press conference at the Enterprise Center.
Last September, the U.S. Department of Agriculture notified N.C. DHHS of its concerns with NC FAST, a $300 million computer system that was supposed to streamline the process of applying for and renewing assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – or food stamps.
The federal government requested that DHHS submit information to address its concerns. In a Dec. 11 letter, the USDA said DHHS’s response lacked a detailed corrective action plan, noting that in November, more than 20,000 households continued to experience delays with SNAP applications and recertification, with more than 6,000 waiting longer than three months. The letter stated that if DHHS fails to comply, it may have its federal funding stopped or suspended.
Black Caucus Vice Chair Parmon, a member of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services, said Wos had not been up front with the committee about her department’s difficulties when she appeared at a November Oversight Committee hearing.
“I had no idea that these issues were facing us as a state,” said Parmon. “They weren’t discussed in the committee as a whole and that’s just not a way to operate.”
The ranking Democrats on the Oversight Committee also called for Wos to resign last week.
The recent Medicaid card mishap happened as new cards were printed for 70,253 children switched from the NC Health Choice program to Medicaid because of the Affordable Care Act. According to DHHS, “human error in computer programming and the quality assurance process” caused the cards to be mailed to the wrong people. The cards show the child’s name, Medicaid identification number, date of birth and their doctor’s name and address. There were no social security numbers on the cards. The mistake is a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and may carry a fine of up to $50,000 per violation.
Terry said that with all the budget cuts being made by McCrory and Republican legislators, state GOP leaders should be outraged that a state agency could potentially lose money as a result of lost funding and fines.
“Certainly those people who are asking us to be frugal and manage our resources don’t want to sit with people who are overseeing things and allowing the beginning of fines to mount because we’re scrambling to answer the questions the federal government requires of us in order to continue our resources for those citizens who need help,” said Terry.
Parmon also questioned if Wos had the experience necessary to run DHHS, a $18.3 billion agency with nearly 18,000 employees dedicated to the health and well being of North Carolinians and assisting the poor. Before her appointment to DHHS, Wos, a native of Warsaw, Poland, was a physician whose resume included work in private practice and corporate medicine and consulting work. She was nominated as ambassador to Estonia by President George W. Bush in 2004 and served in that position until 2006.
Last week, McCrory stood by Wos, blaming DHHS’s current issues on “10 years of operational neglect” under previous administrations that will take time to fix. When the Governor’s Office was asked for a reaction to the newest calls for her resignation, Deputy Communications Director Ryan Tronovitch said in an email that DHHS was taking “corrective action and continues to work with the USDA on the issues raised.” He said the Black Caucus’ calls for her resignation was a “gimmicky press scheme from the extreme left” that won’t solve the department’s issues.
It continues to be an uphill struggle for DHHS. As of Dec. 31, more than 30,000 families have waited longer than a month for food stamp benefits; more than 9,200 families have waited three months or longer.