- The Washington Times - Friday, March 5, 2004

D.C. Council members yesterday criticized the contracting practices of city health officials and ordered them to provide more information about $1.9 million paid to a politically connected health care firm that failed to provide contracted services through its Ward 7 urgent care clinic.

“I’m tired of the blank checks of this government,” D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, said during the annual performance review of the D.C. Department of Health, which oversees a $1.5 billion budget.

Mrs. Schwartz questioned top city health officials about why Chartered Health Plan Inc. never provided around-the-clock services at its 3924 Minnesota Ave. NE urgent care clinic as required in a $1,895,000 contract.

“Chartered Health tells us they’re going to open this clinic, and then it doesn’t open,” Mrs. Schwartz said.

The city paid Chartered Health, owned by Jeffrey E. Thompson, a political supporter of Mayor Anthony A. Williams, to convert its urgent care clinic into a 24-hour facility in May 2002.

The Washington Times first reported in January that the clinic remains closed on Sundays and overnights during the rest of the week.

City health officials yesterday said Chartered Health recently agreed to return the funds, but denied the decision was prompted by publicity about the contract.

James Buford, director of the city’s health department, defended his department’s performance yesterday. Mr. Buford said the health department spends 85 percent of its budget to serve uninsured or underinsured city residents.

“We’ve worked over the past two years to increase access,” he said. “We have continued to meet the health care needs of our residents.”

Brenda Emanuel, director of the Healthcare Safety Net Administration within the health department, said the city-funded D.C. Healthcare Alliance increased residents’ access to health care after the closing of D.C. General Hospital in 2001.

However, council member Sandy Allen, Ward 8 Democrat, who is chairman of the council’s health and human services subcommittee, accused the health department of “game playing and a lack of follow-through on important issues.”

“The residents of the District of Columbia are tired of the games,” she said.

Mrs. Allen questioned the health department’s decision to award a $300,000 contract to an advertising firm last year as part of a campaign to let residents know that D.C. General Hospital provided urgent care services.

“They’re dollars we could have done something else with,” Mrs. Allen said of the contract with D.C.-based Maya Advertising. “We spend a lot of money on advertising when we could be going door to door talking to people. It upsets me.”

Mrs. Allen also questioned why the Healthcare Alliance has paid for health services for residents who were already eligible for coverage under Medicaid — the federal government’s health care program for low-income people.

A D.C. government audit released last month found that the Healthcare Alliance paid out $13 million in 2002 and 2003 to residents already eligible for services under Medicaid.

The city contracts with Chartered Health to administer D.C. Healthcare Alliance claims. The firm also is paid to screen out applicants to the alliance program who are eligible for Medicaid.

In response to those concerns, Miss Emanuel said the Healthcare Safety Net Administration is attempting to recoup those funds through health-care providers. She said the city has received $2.3 million so far, including $1 million from Providence Hospital.

Miss Emanuel also said officials are enacting new performance standards for Chartered Health to ensure an accurate and timely claims process.

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