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DHHS "deeply concerned" by funding cuts in Medicaid transformation bill

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services said Thursday that a proposed $73 million cut to its allocation from the state could be “crippling.”

The reduction for DHHS’ 2019-21 budget is in the latest version of House Bill 555, which is the bill that aims to revamp the state’s Medicaid program.

Republican legislators inserted the Medicaid revamping language into HB555 in an attempt to provide at least $218 million in funding that’s locked up in the state budget dispute.

Sen. Ralph Hise, R-McDowell, said the $31 million cut for 2019-20 is projected to be offset by savings in other areas.

DHHS said the legislation represents “crippling cuts — the largest ever to DHHS — that will undermine the department’s ability to protect people’s health and safety.”

“It comes at a time when the department is undertaking the most significant and complex change in its history with the transition to managed care.”

The Senate Finance committee recommended HB555 Thursday to the Senate Rules and Operations committee, which is expected to address the bill Monday.

DHHS said the funding cut “ignores the hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians who need affordable health care. All of this in a time of a budget surplus” of nearly $900 million.

Key Republican legislative officials, particularly Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, have called a non-starter the attempt to expand Medicaid coverage to between 450,000 to 650,000 North Carolinians within bipartisan House Bill 655.

Language in HB555 lists the cuts as justified because of projected lower administrative costs related to the Medicaid transformation initiative. The bill authorizes health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen to make sweeping cuts across all DHHS to achieve the requirement.

Hise said the $42 million funding reduction in 2020-21 can be offset by at least $20 million from DHHS shifting funding within its budget.

Quarterly tax assessment on hospitals and prepaid health plans operated by insurers would help pay for administrative costs in Medicaid transformation. Critical access and freestanding psychiatric and rehabilitation hospitals are exempt.

The assessments are controversial inclusions into HB555 given that many GOP legislative leaders, foremost Berger, oppose using them to pay for the state’s 10% share of additional Medicaid expansion administrative costs as proposed in HB655.

Health-care systems and PHPs operating in the state would pay $758 million annually in the HB655 legislation.

Berger has claimed the Medicaid expansion assessments eventually would become a pass-through tax onto consumers.

“There is actually a big difference between the assessments in these two bills as we see it,” Berger spokesman Bill D’Elia said.

“The ones in HB555 are there to aid with the transition to a Medicaid managed-care model, which will save the state money in the long run and further streamline the process of providing quality care for the traditional Medicaid population — low-income parents, children, pregnant women, the elderly, the blind and the disabled.

“The assessments in HB655, on the other hand, are there to fund the state’s cost of Medicaid expansion to provide health coverage to mostly able-bodied adults, which will likely cost the state billions of dollars in the long run when the federal government inevitably drops their match rate down from the current, unsustainable 90%.“

Medicaid expansion supporters say a significant number of potential beneficiaries are individuals and families who fall in the current coverage gap of making too much in household income to qualify now for Medicaid, but not enough to afford coverage on the federal health exchange.

For the 36 Medicaid expansion states and the District of Columbia, the federal government has been consistent even under the Trump administration in meeting its 90% contribution.

Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, and primary sponsor of HB655, told a House committee in July that the 90% federal government match is sustainable and would take an act of Congress to change.

Mark Hall, law and public-health professor at Wake Forest University, released a study in April 2018 titled “Do States Regret Expanding Medicaid?”

Hall said requiring hospitals to help pay for North Carolina’s 10% of new administrative costs “is not likely to increase costs to patients because hospitals will also see reduced uncompensated care.

“The two effects — tax and reduced uncompensated care — should be a wash.”

3 people shot off South Main Street in Winston-Salem

Three people were shot at a mobile home park off the 4600 block of South Main Street shortly after 7 p.m. Thursday, Winston-Salem Police said.

After receiving reports of a shooting at the Lambeth Mobile Home Park, officers found three people shot and wounded at the scene, police Lt. Eric Montgomery said.

The victims are one adult male and two male teenagers. They were taken to a local hospital for treatment, Montgomery said.

He declined to identify the victims.

One of the victims underwent surgery Thursday night, Montgomery said. Two of the victims have what Montgomery believes are non-life-threatening injuries, but he didn’t know their conditions.

“We are still very fresh in our investigation,” Montgomery said. “It is always disheartening when anyone is a victim of violence, especially gunfire. It’s especially disheartening when it’s minors.”

Investigators believe more than one suspect left the scene in a vehicle.

Before the shooting occurred, there was a large gathering of people at the scene, police said.

Officers are searching for suspects. Montgomery described the shooting as senseless violence.

“We do not at this time have anyone in custody,” Montgomery said. “We believe that there was more than one person responsible for it (the shooting).”

More than 35 police and detectives responded to the shooting. Detectives are following up on leads, Montgomery said.

Residents in the mobile-home park live close to each other, he said.

“I would like to think that someone saw something,” Montgomery said.

“We would hope that they would say something.”

The officers and detectives spoke to neighbors and residents seeking clues about what happened.

Investigators will try to determine the circumstances that led to the shooting, he said.

“We are going to talk to neighbors to see if we can find people who are willing to come forward with information,” Montgomery said. “We will investigate to try the find the motive behind this (shooting).”

Investigators found evidence of gunfire at the scene, but they haven’t found any guns that were use in the shooting.

“We are still searching for them,” he said.

Anyone with information about the shooting can call Winston-Salem police at 336-773-7700 or Crime Stoppers at 336-727-2800. Crime Stoppers of Winston-Salem is on Facebook.

Photos: Triple Shooting on South Main Street

Wake Forest volleyball coach charged in national academic admissions scandal resigns

Bill Ferguson, who was charged earlier this year with racketeering in connection with a national academic admissions scandal, has resigned as Wake Forest’s women’s volleyball coach, the university said in a statement Thursday.

The announcement comes more than five months after Ferguson was put on administrative leave on March 12 after news of the scandal surfaced.

Ferguson, who joined Wake Forest’s staff in June 2016, is alleged to have illegally accepted $100,000 from a foundation to help an individual gain admission to Wake Forest.

He pleaded not guilty on March 25 in federal court.

“I loved our time at Wake, and I believe the volleyball program is in very good shape for the future. Wake is a wonderful place. I am proud of the players and assistant coaches who came through our program and those currently here,” Ferguson said in the university’s statement. “It’s essential that I step aside so that the team and coaches can continue to move forward while I focus on the case, and focus on my family. I look forward to the success the program will enjoy.”

He is one of 12 defendants who were either college coaches or private athletics groups named in what was dubbed Operation Varsity Blues by federal prosecutors in the U.S. District Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts.

Several coaches and actress Felicity Huffman pleaded guilty for their roles in the fake admissions scandal.

When asked for comment on Ferguson and the status of the case, the university deferred to the athletics department.

Steve Shutt, spokesman for Wake Forest athletics, said the department had no comment beyond what was in the university’s statement.

“With the volleyball season about to begin, we appreciate and respect Bill’s wish to put the interests of the student-athletes and the program first,” Athletics Director John Currie said in the statement. “Interim coach Randi Smart has done an excellent job of leading our student-athletes through this period of uncertainty. We are grateful for her continued leadership of the program as we get ready for our first home exhibition match this Saturday.”

That noon match is against Georgia in Reynolds Gymnasium.

Smart will continue as serve as the interim head coach. The Deacons’ season will begin Aug. 30 with a joint tournament with UNCG.

Failed fire inspection delays student orientation at Blue Green Academy, a new charter school

Officials with Blue Green Academy, a new public charter school, delayed student orientation this past Monday because it failed a fire inspection at its site on Old Lexington Road.

“We delayed our student orientation from Aug. 19 to Aug. 26 because we are awaiting our final inspection,” said Daye Brake, one of the school’s principals and a co-founder.

The school will begin classes Monday for its fifth-grade and sixth-grade students at its site in St. Peter’s Church and World Outreach Center, the school said in a statement.

School administrators are working to resolve several fire-code violations, Brake said. It was unclear Thursday whether the academy could open if the violations aren’t remedied by then .

Tad Byrum, an assistant fire chief with the Winston-Salem Fire Department and the city’s fire marshal, said Thursday that no academy administrator has contacted the department about inspecting the academy again.

“We will be glad to conduct a reinspection and evaluate the situation when the general contractor requests a reinspection,” Byrum said.

School administrators expect to resolve the issues mentioned in the inspection report by early next week, Brake said.

The academy’s goal is to fix those problems before classes start Monday, said Dave Machado, the director of the Office of Charter Schools within the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

“They can get it done very quickly,” Machado said.

The students, which the school describes as scholars, are scheduled to report to the school at 3683-B Old Lexington Road in Winston-Salem, the school said.

Students “will begin the school year with field experiences that will enhance their learning and create exposure in the areas of leadership, entrepreneurship, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and cultural awareness,” the school said in a statement.

School administrators will provide more details in a meeting with parents at 6 p.m. today at the school.

Charter schools are public schools that are authorized by the State Board of Education and operated by independent nonprofit boards of directors, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction says on its website. Charter schools, which receive federal, state and local money, have open enrollment and cannot discriminate in admissions, associate with any religion or religious group, or charge tuition. Charter schools operate with freedom from many of the regulations that govern public schools.

Blue Green Academy will serve low-income communities in Winston-Salem, and most of its students will be African American and Hispanic, it said in its charter-school application.

“The students of Blue Green Academy will be known for their infectious optimism toward learning and success,” the school continued. “Students will be prepared for college, careers and entrepreneurship.”

The academy is expecting 110 students on Monday, Brake said.

The academy had considered moving its classes for the first month of the 2019-20 school year to the former Hanes/Lowrance Middle School at 2900 Indiana Ave. in Winston-Salem. However, The the state’s charter schools’ offices had concerns about that site.

After academy officials announced that classes would be held temporarily at Hanes/Lowrance, several parents of students expressed concerns about that site as well, Brake said.

Officials with the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools moved nearly 1,200 students who attended Hanes/Lowrance Middle School in early 2015 to other middle schools, and closed that school after toxic vapors from contaminated groundwater was discovered under its campus.

Tests of indoor air, outdoor air and soil vapor conducted in mid-February 2015 indicated the toxic plume beneath the campus had produced potentially hazardous vapors but those vapors did not enter the school in significant levels. The test found the presence in low levels of two chemicals linked to cancer in people.

Rapael Fulton of Winston-Salem initially enrolled his daughter to attend sixth grade in the academy, but he withdrew her this week from the charter school. She will attend Quality Education Academy on Lansing Drive.

Fulton contacted the Winston-Salem Journal about his concerns regarding the academy. Fulton said he was worried that the Hanes/Lowrance site wasn’t safe for the Blue Green Academy’s students, teachers and staff members.

“I’m glad they decided not to use the Hanes/Lowrance facility,” Fulton said.

Blue Green administrators are dealing with other issues at its school on Old Lexington Road.

An inspection conducted by the Winston-Salem Fire Department on Aug. 16 found eight fire code violations in the academy’s building at the church, according to the inspection’s report.

The academy failed the inspection partly because the inspectors didn’t have sufficient time to complete the inspection, the report said.

An inspector also found that one of the school’s exit doors didn’t function properly,that one of the exit locations lacked proper lighting and that the school didn’t have a letter from a contractor showing that its sprinkler system complies with the fire code.

The inspection report also noted that the academy needs:

  • A Knox Box, a wall-mounted safe that holds the building’s keys so firefighters, emergency-medical technicians and police officers can quickly get inside in emergencies.
  • An elevator key box.
  • Proof that work on its fire-alarm system was completed.
  • Its portable fire extinguishers checked.