Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse at the scandal plagued Department of Health and Human Services, Medicaid Director Carol Steckel resigned Monday from the troubled department after only eight months on the job.
Steckel was the highest profile hire of Governor Pat McCrory’s now embattled DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos and she came with an impressive resume and a long background in health care and Medicaid specifically, running Alabama’s program and serving as a top official in Louisiana’s health and human services agency.
And Steckel is not just leaving, she is headed to work for WellCare Health Plans, a Florida managed care company that wants to run North Carolina’s Medicaid program if McCrory’s ill-advised plans to privatize it are successful.
Steckel’s resignation raises questions about the revolving door between government and private industry and it also leaves the troubled department without arguably its most qualified senior official.
Steckel has advised her colleagues to stop including her on any discussions of Medicaid or managed care in her last few weeks on the job—she is officially leaving October 11. Instead they are supposed to send any questions about the privatization effort to Joe Hauck or Mardy Peal, two people who have also been in the news lately.
Hauck is working at DHHS on a personal services contract and has made $228,000 in the last nine months. He is on leave from his position as vice-president of sales and marketing at the company run by Secretary Wos’ husband.
Mardy Peal was hired last month to work on the Medicaid privatization effort, despite not having worked in health care policy for more than a decade. She is also an anti-abortion activist and founder of a local tea party chapter.
Those are the folks that for now are in charge of Medicaid reform in the McCrory Administration when Steckel leaves, a sales and marketing manager and a tea party activist.
And all this comes on the heels of Wos’ defense of her decisions to hire two 24-year-old former McCrory campaign workers in top positions in the department and give them significant raises last spring. One of them is now in charge of policy at DHHS, despite no real health policy experience or education in the field.
Then there is the recent news that Wos’ former Chief of Staff Thomas Adams received a $37,000 severance payment after he left after only a month on the job.
Wos is not the only one defending her decisions. Governor McCrory recently gave Wos a vote of confidence in a brief meeting with reporters.
A headline of a recent editorial in the News & Observer about all the problems at DHHS was “McCrory slow to anger over DHHS mess.”
That’s not entirely accurate. McCrory is actually angry, but not about all the scandals.
He is mad at the news media for reporting on the strife and disarray in the most important department in his administration that affects the lives of millions of people in North Carolina every day.
McCrory ran for office promising to fix what he repeatedly called a broken government. He didn’t come to Raleigh with any big, bold initiatives like creating an early childhood program like Smart Start or promising to be the education governor and raise teacher salaries to the national average.
He promised to “fix’ Raleigh and in many of his speeches around the state, he talks at length about how much time he is spending on the “operations” of state government, changing the culture, etc.
That’s why the train wreck at DHHS could be so devastating to his administration and why his advisers are so panicked about his sharply declining job approval numbers.
The problems at DHHS are not a distraction from McCrory’s big initiative. They are evidence that he is currently failing on his one big promise, to “fix” state government.
He has tried for much of his term to blame all the problems on past administrations. That worked for while, longer that it should have, but it is not working any more.
The problems with the new systems processing Medicaid claims and delivering food stamps may have originated before McCrory took over, but he is in charge now and his people decided to put the systems online and they alone are responsible for the glitches that are causing so many problems for low-income families and medical practices.
And McCrory hired Aldona Wos after all, not Beverly Perdue, and he is the one standing by her while she makes absurd decision after absurd decision.
This is Pat McCrory’s Department of Health and Human Services. And it is broken, to borrow a phrase that the governor should recognize.
Not much is going to change until McCrory himself admits that and stops blaming everybody else for the problems his own administration has created.