- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 15, 2001

Members of the D.C. Council have lobbed some disingenuous barbs at the Williams administration's proposals to restructure health care for the poor. Kevin Chavous, for one, has said the plan, which will end certain in-patient services at the city's public hospital, "will literally not only cause people to die on the streets of the nation's capital but create a health-care crisis." Mayor Williams has said he anticipated some grandstanding but will nonetheless continue to improve services and trim costs. Mr. Chavous says he has a majority of his colleagues on his side to kill the mayor's proposals. The mayor and much of the public stand alongside other agents of change, namely the control board. But for how long?

The control board has been phasing itself out of work for more than a year. The board ended its say in day-to-day affairs when Mr. Williams became mayor in January 1999. For the most part it has said very little the notable exceptions being on educational issues and fiscal matters. Even then, when the business was schools, the board had to step in because the council forced voters to revisit the home-rule charter on the issue of an elected vs. an appointed board.

Fiscal issues are different. By federal law, the board must have a say in all financial issues and must certify the city's books. One tool it uses is the annual audit, which is officially called the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, or CAFR. Four consecutive clean audits mean the control board might be dissolved at the end of this fiscal year.

Auditors of the fiscal year 2000 CAFR, though, did send up two flags. One was for failing to audit agencies that use federal grant monies. The other cautionary note regarding the FY 2000 audit was directed toward overspending and the D.C. Public Benefit Corp., which runs D.C. General Hospital. Overspending is particularly troublesome because, by law, the city cannot spend money it has not, by law, been authorized to spend. Some call such anti-deficiency laws mere technicalities. In the District, however, which was certifiably bankrupt six years ago, such checks and balance mechanisms cannot be taken lightly. Also, D.C. General Hospital will technically run out of money halfway through the current fiscal year.

While either of those options will surely open the doors for more grandstanding from the council and the mayor's other political detractors, neither will solve the District's health care problems. If anything, those "solutions" could very well mean the control board will not be dissolved this year, or worse, the poorest of the poor won't have any hospital beds to lie in.

The Williams administration has much more work to do when it comes to serving the District's uninsured and underinsured residents who now feel trapped because Mr. Chavous and his colleagues ignored their needs many years ago. Still, what was and was not done is not the issue. The issue is the plan must go forward on behalf of the city's poor, and the control board must keep that in mind before it lays itself to rest.

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