Back in the throes of winter the State Auditor audited the North Carolina Medicaid Department and reported it had the highest administrative costs of just about any state Medicaid Department around – which sure sounded right because, as just about everyone knows, North Carolina’s Medicaid program has been a bollixed mess for years.
But it turned out the auditor had made a mistake.
For instance, she’d reported Arizona Medicaid’s Administrative costs were 2% when, in fact, they were closer to 13% — which were higher than North Carolina’s.
The Perdue Administration (which was in charge of the Medicaid program back then) promptly drafted a rebuttal letter to the auditor pointing out the error, but before the letter was sent Governor Perdue left office and Governor McCrory was sworn in – which dropped the problem in new Medicaid Director Carol Steckel’s lap.
Mrs. Steckel looked at the audit, looked at the Perdue folks’ rebuttal, and deleted the correction – so the audit went to legislators who hit the roof when they saw North Carolina’s Medicaid administrative costs were through the roof.
Now there’re a lot of reasons Mrs. Steckel may have done that. But they’re mostly conjecture. No one really knows. She may have simply figured it wasn’t her responsibility to defend her predecessors. Or she may have figured high Medicaid administrative costs would be a good argument for privatizing Medicaid – which she favored.
At any rate, North Carolina’s high administrative costs became an accepted fact – until a reporter, plowing through stacks of public documents, turned a page and up popped the Perdue Administration’s rebuttal with Mrs. Steckel’s edits (or deletions) on it.
The reporter published her story the morning the legislature’s Joint House-Senate Health Care Committee met for a hearing with DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos and, of course, in no time, a Democratic Senator asked Secretary Wos, Is it true – that we don’t have the highest Medicaid costs around?
A Republican legislator, trying to help Wos, pointed out the reporter hadn’t published that article the morning of the hearing by accident and added it sure looked like the reporter was on a witch hunt. Democratic Senator Martin Nesbitt then quipped, if the reporter was a witch hunt, it sure looked like she may have found a witch.
The next morning the Vice Chairperson of the Republican Party tore into Martin Nesbitt calling him a no-good misogynist who’d insulted every young girl in North Carolina by slurring one of North Carolina’s most prominent female leaders, calling her (Secretary Wos) a witch.
That broadside provoked a rambling denial from a flustered Nesbitt, saying he’d never, ever, ever, once called Aldona Wos a witch.
So the auditor made a mistake, the head of Medicaid deleted the correction, a reporter dug up the truth, a Republican attacked the reporter, a Democrat made a joke, and the Vice Chairman of the GOP called the Democrat a sexist.
Back in my youth we had this antiquated idea that when we landed in a political soup, fibbing would land us deeper in the soup. But these days Reverend William Barber can stand up and say Republicans are dead-set on taking North Carolina back to the days of Jim Crow or folks can start hollering about witches and witch hunts and, in the blink of an eye, the howl rises, vision fails, and the blind lead the blind astray.