Investigation satisfies legislative oversight committee
RALEIGH — State legislators with responsibility for overseeing state government computer systems showed no interest Thursday in discussing a massive privacy breach at the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, saying they are satisfied with how Gov. Pat McCrory's administration is investigating it.
The Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Information Technology met for nearly three hours, but lawmakers asked no questions about a purported programming error that caused the agency last week to mail Medicaid cards containing the personal information of nearly 49,000 children to the wrong mailing addresses.
Committee Co-Chairman Sen. Andrew Brock, R-Davie, says he and other key legislators received private briefings on the matter from McCrory's legislative liaison. The Republican lawmaker said he is satisfied with how the GOP governor's administration is handling the issue.
"Our agenda was already set up," Brock said, referring to the absence of any discussions about the breach during the hearing. "In talking with the department, seeing what steps they are doing, we felt pretty comfortable they were taking the proper steps for corrections and changes."
DHHS officials said Monday that an employee's programming error caused software developed to extract information from a state Medicaid database to generate the mass mailing utilizing incorrect addresses for the children's parents or guardians. The erroneously addressed cards include the children's names, Medicaid identification numbers, dates of birth and the names of their primary care doctors — private medical information that is supposed to be closely safeguarded. Under federal law, the state could be fined hundreds of thousands of dollars for the breach.
Brock said they may take up the issue at the IT committee's next meeting, scheduled for February.
Brock said the goal of legislative leaders is to find solutions, not point fingers of blame. But seconds later, he followed McCrory's lead in blaming the governor's Democratic predecessors for the recent missteps at the state health agency.
"The root causes of the problems we have with our IT systems are not just with this administration; the fault lies in the hands of Gov. (Mike) Easley and Gov. (Bev) Perdue," Brock said.
For their part, Democrats repeated calls on Thursday for McCrory to replace DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos, the Greensboro doctor and wealthy GOP donor he appointed to run the embattled agency.
A joint statement issued by two ranking Democrats on the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services recounted that while on the campaign trail in 2012, McCrory often railed against what he said was the state's "broken" Medicaid program. But once he became governor, Democratic Reps. Beverly Earle and Michael Wray said, McCrory did little to fix the problems.
"Over the course of the past 12 months, Secretary Wos has created more problems than she has solved and her inept leadership is diminishing the job of those who are supposed to help the people who can't help themselves," the Democratic lawmakers said. "The department needs a competent leader who can direct public policy and work with the legislative leadership to address the critical needs facing those who are served by the Department of Health and Human Services."
The DHHS oversight committee is scheduled to meet next week. The agenda of items to be discussed has not yet been issued.