Monday, June 12, 2006

Opinion from Corpus Christi Caller-Times

Opinion: State's Privatization Push Turning Into Debacle
Staff Editorial
Corpus Christi Caller-Times
The state of Texas' push to have private contractors take over the processing of documents bearing on eligibility for social programs seems to have turned into a disaster movie.
The first signs of trouble came in connection with CHIP - the Children's Health Insurance Program, created to extend much-needed help to kids whose families make too much to quality for Medicaid but can't afford adequate health care. Between start-up problems experienced by the private contractors and confusion among families applying for CHIP, thousands of kids dropped out of the progream. Now, no doubt, they are showing up at costly emergency rooms rather than at doctor's offices or clinics when they need treatment.
There have been glitches with regard to the Medicaid rolls, also being handled by a private contractor. There, too, clients have been falling off the charts.
And now comes what may be the most astonishing fiasco yet. The Houston Chronicle has reported that confidential documents bearing on medical issues and financial information submitted by Texans applying for state assistance not only did not get responses; many wound up in a Seattle, Wash., warehouse, where some were shunted off to storage and others were shredded.
It seems the toll-free phone number for the warehouse in Seattle was almost identical (except for area code) to the toll-free number the state advertised for those applications.
Texas officials were notified to that effect on May 9. On May 29, the warehouse manager contacted the contractor who was processing the Texas applications. But not until May 31 did the state and the contractor directly address the problem.
The weeks of inaction are nothing short of astonishing. What comes out of this episode is troubling, even ugly. The state either lacked the initiative to address a situation that cried out for action, or it simply did not deem the plight of these needy individuals as being worthy of action. Either way, it's a profoundly disturbing picture.

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