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CEO of Cardinal Gets a Raise – With Our Tax Dollars!

You could hear the outrage in the voices of some of the NC legislators (finally, for the love of God – our General Assembly has taken the blinders off their eyes regarding the MCOs) at the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Medicaid and NC Health Choice on Tuesday, December 6, 2016, when Cardinal Innovations‘, a NC managed care organization (MCO) that manages our Medicaid behavioral health care in its catchment area, CEO, Richard Topping, stated that his salary was raised this year from $400,000 to $635,000with our tax dollars. (Whoa – totally understand if you have to read that sentence multiple times; it was extraordinarily complex).

Senator Tommy Tucker (R-Waxhaw) was especially incensed. He said, “I received minutes from your board, Sept. 16 of 2016, they made that motion, that your 2017 comp package, they raised your salary from $400,000 to $635,000, they gave you a 0 to 30 percent bonus potential which could be roughly another $250,000 and also you have some sort of annuity or long-term package of $412,000,” said Sen. Tommy Tucker.

FINALLY!!! Not the first time that I have blogged about the mismanagement (my word) of our tax dollars. See blog. And blog.

Sen. Tucker was not alone.

Representative Dollar was also concerned. But even more surprising than our legislators stepping up to the plate and holding an MCO accountable (MCOs have expensive lobbyists – with our tax dollars), the State’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Secretary Rick Brajer was visibly infuriated. He spoke sharply and interrogated Topping as to his acute income increase, as well as the benefits attached.

As a health care blogger, I receive so many emails from blog readers, including parents of disabled children, who are not receiving the medically necessary Medicaid behavioral health care services for their developmentally disabled children. MCOs are denying medically necessary services. MCOs are terminating qualified health care providers. MCOs are putting access to care at issue. BTW – even if the MCOs only terminated 1 provider and stopped 1 Medicaid recipient from receiving behavioral health care services from their provider of choice, that MCO would be in violation of federal law access to care regulations.  But, MCOs are terminating multiple – maybe hundreds – of health care providers. MCOs are nickeling and diming health care providers. Yet, CEO Topping will reap $635,000+ as a salary.

The MCOs, including Cardinal, do not have assets except for our tax dollars. They are not incorporated. They are not private entities. They are extensions of our “single state agency” DHHS. The MCOs step into the shoes of DHHS. The MCOs are state agencies. The MCOs are paid with our tax dollars. Our tax dollars should be used (and are budgeted) to provide Medicaid behavioral health care services for our most needy and to be paid to those health care providers, who still accept Medicaid and provide services to our most vulnerable population. News alert – These providers who render behavioral health care services to Medicaid recipients do not make $635,000/year, or anywhere even close. The reimbursement rates for Medicaid is paltry, at best. Toppings should be embarrassed for even accepting a $635,000 salary. The money, instead, should go to increasing the reimbursements rates – or maintaining a provider network without terminating providers ad nauseum. Or providing medically necessary services to Medicaid recipients.

Rest assured, Cardinal is not the only MCO lining the pockets of its executives. While both Trillium and Alliance, other MCOs, pay their CEOs under $200,000 (still nothing to sneeze at). Alliance, however, throws its tax dollars at private, legal counsel. No in-house counsel for Alliance! Oh, no! Alliance hires expensive, private counsel to defend its actions. Another way our tax dollars are at work. And – my question – why in the world does Alliance, or any other MCO, need to hire legal counsel? Our State has perfectly competent attorneys at our Attorney General’s office, who are on salary to defend the state, and its agencies, for any issue. The MCOs stand in the shoes of the State when it comes to Medicaid for behavioral health. The MCOs should utilize the attorneys the State already employs – not a high-dollar, private law firm. These are our tax dollars!

There have been few times that I have praised DHHS in my blogs. I will readily admit that I am harsh on DHHS’ actions/nonactions with our tax dollars. And I am now not recanting any of my prior opinions. But, last Tuesday, Sec. Brajer held Toppings feet to the fire. Thank you, Brajer, for realizing the horror of an MCO CEO earning $635,000/year while our most needy population goes under-served, and, sometimes not served at all, with medically necessary behavioral health care services.

What is deeply concerning is that if Sec. Brajer is this troubled by actions by the MCOs, or, at least, Cardinal, why can he not DO SOMETHING?? Where is the supervision of the MCOs by DHHS? I’ve read the contracts between the MCOs and DHHS. DHHS is the supervising entity over the MCOs. Our Waiver to the federal government promises that DHHS will supervise the MCOs.

If the Secretary of DHHS cannot control the MCOs, who can?

DHHS Still Claims NCTracks on Track?? CSC Doing Its Best?

Today  the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services met at noon. Mr. Joe Cooper, DHHS’ Chief Information Officer, spoke on behalf of DHHS.  He began by explaining that NCTracks is not NC Fast, which I believe we already knew.

Most interestingly, it was stated that DHHS has assessed approximately a quarter of a million dollars in penalties against CSC since NCTracks going live.  These assessments are paid to the state.  To which I ask, “Why does CSC pay penalties to the state? Why not pay the people actually damaged by CSC’s ineptness..the unpaid providers?”  It makes no sense that, while providers are not getting paid, CSC pays the state.  That’s like a robber paying restitution to the insurance company that never covered the losses of the victim.

Another interesting comment was when asked exactly how much has been spent on NCTracks, Mr. Cooper deferred to DHHS’ CFO, Rod Davis who answered that he does not have that information.  To which Senator Tarte stated, “That doesn’t make me feel comfortable.”

Mr. Cooper described CSC’s monumental effort to try to get providers paid.  According to Mr. Cooper the “backlog” will be nonexistent by the end of the year.  But when asked, “What is the number of remaining backlogs?” Mr. Cooper answered, “Senator, I don’t have that number.  I can get it to you.” 

When asked a follow-up question about whether the number of backlogs was similar to a previous number of approximately 43,000, Mr. Cooper noted that there are two types of backlogs.  One backlog addresses prior authorizations, and, according to Mr. Cooper there is no more backlog as to prior authorizations.  NCTracks is absolutely current. The non-current backlog is regarding returning calls and responding to emails.

Providers, Is it true? Is NCTracks current as to prior authorizations?

Mr. Cooper further stated that calls to the Call Center are now answered within seconds. Last week CSC implemented a new process for answering phone calls that when providers call the Call Center, CSC estimates when it will call back the providers in order to stop the providers from staying on the phone too long.  That’s great, but getting an estimated time for a callback doesn’t really resolve the problem, right?

Mr. Cooper also showed a graph depicting total Medicaid claims payments from State fiscal year 2012 through October 2012 (the graph on the left) and payments from State fiscal year 2013 through October 2013. 

NCTracks Payouts

Obviously the point of this graph is to demonstrate that CSC is approximately right on track with what HP Enterprises paid last year.  And, I agree, when looking at this graph, it appears that both CSC and HP paid out similar amounts for the different years.  But the graph does not explain whether the volume of claims increased from 2012 to 2013.  One would think that the number of claims increased in 2013, as our population grew.  So is the comparability of the graph deceiving?

Senator Nesbitt pointed out that another graph, the graph depicting claims adjudication, does not appear to demonstrate positive progress.  He said, “It doesn’t look like we are fixing the problem.  We are generating more and more bills that aren’t being paid.”

Here is the chart Senator Nesbitt was talking about:

Chart

Senator Nesbitt pointed out that, according to the chart, it looks like claim adjudication is declining.  He sais that he heard someone mention that 70% is the goal, but he doesn’t think that 70% is a good goal.  Why not 100%?

After Senator Nesbitt made his comments, the meeting adjourned until 2:00.  If you want to listen to the committee meeting, click on: http://ncleg.net/Audio/Audio.html.  and select “Appropriations Committee Room (Rm 643).”