Raleigh, N.C. — At a Joint Program Evaluation Oversight Committee meeting Wednesday, State Auditor Beth Wood again criticized the handling of the failed rollout of a new Medicaid billing system, prompting some lawmakers to ask whether anyone could or would be held accountable.
Reviewing an earlier letter to the Joint DHHS Oversight Committee, Wood said Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos and Chief Information Officer Joe Cooper provided "incorrect information" about the billing system, known as NCTracks, at an October hearing.
At that meeting, Wos told lawmakers she had not received professional advice that the site would not be ready to launch July 1.
Wood said her agency performed an audit of the new system earlier this year and sat down with DHHS leaders in March to warn them about their findings.
"The agency had identified more than 800 critical tests," Wood said Wednesday. "One hundred twenty-three were failed, and 285 critical tests had not been done."
The audit also found that a third-party contractor hired for independent verification and validation of system testing had not actually conducted any independent verification. They merely collected information from DHHS and vendor Computer Sciences Corp. and summarized it in a report.
As of March, Wood said, no formal set of criteria and no benchmarks had been established to determine whether the site was ready to go live. Security clearance decisions had not yet been made for more than 1,500 users.
Wos replied in a written response that the required tests had been successfully completed in June, prior to the July 1 launch.
"It’s Nov. 20, and the system's still not functioning at the level it needs to be," commented chairman Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell. "Whether it was on July 1 is kind of a moot point."
Wood agreed but said the problem illustrates a pervasive and longstanding lack of oversight for IT contracts in DHHS and state government overall.
Some lawmakers wanted to know whether those responsible for the rollout would face any consequences.
Sen. Jeff Tarte, R-Mecklenburg, asked Wood who was responsible for signing off on reports that system testing had been completed and was successful.
"The agency," Wood answered, adding, "The point person that was at the agency is now working for CSC."
Sen. Stan Bingham, R-Davidson, asked whether criminal charges could be filed.
'We put people in jail for stealing a candy bar, and we’re losing hundreds of millions of dollars, and there don’t seem to be any consequences," Bingham said. "I’d have more respect for somebody that robbed a bank with a gun than this. They’re at least taking the risk of being caught."
"Accountability comes at the secretary level, those that report to the secretary, and the governor," Wood responded,
The auditor added that the problems with NC Tracks and its precursor started in previous administrations, and no one has been held accountable for the program for years.
"Can we even fire anybody?" Bingham asked.
"I don't have a problem with firing anybody," Wood replied.
Wos assured lawmakers Tuesday "that, where necessary, I will hold people accountable."
In a written response to Wood's testimony Wednesday, Wos spokesman Ricky Diaz said, "I want to reiterate the high professional regard Secretary Wos and her leadership team have for State Auditor Beth Wood. DHHS took the auditor’s May report on NCTracks very seriously.'
"As the Secretary said (Tuesday), we continue to stress to our team – and our vendor – that we must get providers paid for the work they do, and while progress is being made, we will not rest until all issues are resolved.”