- The Washington Times - Monday, January 19, 2004

The head of the D.C. Council’s Human Services Committee says the city’s health department must get tougher on contractors who receive city funds to provide services only to reconsider after they are paid.

“It’s time we start holding all of the parties accountable,” said Sandy Allen, Ward 8 Democrat. “We’ve been at this for more than two years.”

Mrs. Allen’s comments came in response to an article in The Washington Times last week that reported the D.C.-based Chartered Health Plan Inc. never provided 24-hour health clinic services as required in a contract.

The company received $1,895,000 to provide 24-hour clinic services in Northeast in May 2002, but the firm’s executives changed their minds several months later. Chartered Health officials told the health department that the contract needed to be modified to include more money.

The department told Chartered Health that it could scale back the clinic’s hours instead. The clinic closes from midnight to 9 a.m. on weekdays and all day Sundays.

That decision has angered several D.C. Council members, who say city residents were cheated out of the around-the-clock clinic services for which their tax dollars paid.

Mrs. Allen said the health department could have insisted that Chartered Health operate the clinic 24 hours as required in the contract rather than let the company scale back services.

“The city could definitely use more 24-hour clinics and especially on the east side of the Anacostia River,” Mrs. Allen said.

Mrs. Allen said the D.C. Council last year passed the Healthcare Privatization Rulemaking Act to make it easier for the health department to withhold payments to contractors in the D.C. Healthcare Alliance.

The Healthcare Alliance is the city’s $80 million plan to provide health care for low-income residents not covered by Medicaid.

However, the health department has yet to take action against Chartered Health under the legislation, said Mrs. Allen, who sponsored the bill.

“They have not been able to give any real reason why it hasn’t been done, except that their legal people are looking at it,” Mrs. Allen said.

Health officials defend the decision to allow Chartered Health to limit the hours of its clinic at 3924 Minnesota Ave. NE.

Brenda Emanuel, deputy director of the health department’s Healthcare Safety Net Administration, said the department agreed with the company that 24-hour services were not needed.

However, Miss Emanuel said the department is conducting an audit of all dollars paid to Chartered Health through the Healthcare Alliance.

Chartered Health is owned by Jeffrey E. Thompson, a key political supporter of Mayor Anthony A. Williams. The company also contracts with the health department to administer enrollment and eligibility claims paid to contractors in the Healthcare Alliance.

City records show that the Healthcare Alliance lost more than $10 million in 2002 because of incorrect payments to clients who were enrolled in Medicaid.

Mrs. Allen asked health officials during a D.C. Council hearing in July why sanctions were never imposed against the company as a result of the improper payments.

Miss Emanuel said the health department decided against sanctions because Chartered Health officials pledged they would not repeat the mistake.

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