Health and Human Services
Mar 30th - 1:38 pm
The state’s massive agency overseeing all health an human services needs “significant changes either in management structure or executive leadership” to lift itself out of a state of turmoil, according to a new study released Friday. The report, released by a “strike force” assembled by Governor Greg Abbott in January, said recent controversies over corruption are only symptoms of larger organizational problems within the agency.
The Health and Human Services Commission is a major component of Texas government, employing nearly one out of every five state workers and spending about $30 billion per year — more than a third of the state’s budget. Governor Abbott formed a team in January to look into problems at the agency after a $110 million state contract fell through over questionable contracting procedures in the agency with Austin-based software company 21CT. Subsequent investigations have led to several high-level resignations within the agency, including a gubernatorial appointee, Inpsector General Doug Wilson. Despite the report’s suggestion of “a change in leadership,” there’s still no word on the future of the HHSC’s executive director, Kyle Janek. Several lawmakers have called for him to step down, while Governor Abbott had previously said they would wait until after the report to make a decision.
That 21CT deal led to questions over the use of cooperative contracting, a type of contracting intended for smaller purchases that allows agencies to sidestep the normal bidding process. But Monday’s report defended that process, calling it a useful method often employed successfully by the state government. It points out “the 21CT controversy had as much to do with the actions of individuals as it did with the contracting process.” It suggested more restrictions and oversight on the Inspector General’s Office, as opposed to eliminating it altogether.
Monday’s report also urged caution about the idea of consolidation of HHSC agencies. Lawmakers have proposed turning the five agencies into one “mega agency” by 2016, but Monday’s report said many of the agency’s problems stem from the last consolidation — from 12 agencies to five — in 2003. The report said that deadline needs to at least be pushed back, and “may not be the right strategy for future success.” It urged lawmakers to consider the implications of that consolidation, saying the agencies are too broad to be successfully run by one entity. They say keeping some functions separate would lead to less risk of neglect and could help attract better and more specialized leadership.
Governor Abbott’s strike force included former Travis County state district judge and current UT Austin professor F. Scott McCown, as well as Texas A&M University System CFO Bill Hamilton, Texas Department of Agriculture CFO Heather Griffith Peterson, and former State Rep. Talmadge Heflin.
Governor Abbot released a statement responding to the quote, saying
“The report’s findings are deeply troubling. It is now more clear than ever that the Texas Health and Human Services Commission has been riddled with operational, managerial, structural and procedural problems that go far beyond any individual or contract. That is unacceptable. As Governor, I am committed to addressing these issues head-on. Upon assuming office, I took the immediate step of directing all state agencies – including HHSC – to implement key transparency and accountability reforms to their contracting and procurement processes. I will take the findings of the strike force’s report into account as I determine what additional actions must be taken to ensure Texans can have the trust they deserve to be able to place in their government.”
Mar 11th - 11:58 am
We’re getting a glimpse at how Senate leaders plan to tackle Governor Greg Abbott’s fifth emergency item: ethics reform. The Senate Finance Committee heard testimony Wednesday on Senate Bill 20, which aims to regulate the use of cooperative contracts.
Cooperative contracting is the controversial program that allows companies to bypass the usual bidding process for state contracts. The program, which was designed for smaller purchases, made headlines last year when Austin-based software company 21CT received a $20 million contract for Medicaid fraud detection software through that process. Subsequent accusations of corruption within the department led to several high-level resignations at HHSC, and a legislative push for more oversight in the state’s contracting process.
Senate Finance Committee Chair Jane Nelson (R – TX Senate District 12) filed Senate Bill 20, and dedicated Wednesday’s committee meeting to her legislation. It would require agency heads to approve the use of a cooperative contract for anything over $1 million and would prohibit any conflicts of interest with high-ranking department officials. It would also mandate an increasing number of competitive bids depending on the size of the contract, and would require agencies to develop an online database to post their contracts online.
“The recent reports of irregularities in contracts at our health and human services agencies have revealed what I perceive to be gaping holes in our laws on contracting,” Nelson said. “Those gaps need to be addressed across state government. Senate Bill 20 strengthens accountability, increases transparency and ensures the fair competitive bids in awarding of state contracts.”
The Finance Committee heard testimony from several departments, including the HHSC, but left the bill pending. The committee is expected to vote on the legislation next week.
Jan 14th - 12:19 pm
Gov.-elect Greg Abbott has announced an independent review of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission as criticism mounts against the agency’s contracting policies. Abbott says his “strike force” will conduct a “comprehensive performance review of management, contracting and operations” within the department.
Gov.-elect Abbott’s team will be led by Billy Hamilton, executive vice chancellor and chief financial officer of the Texas A&M University System, and Heather Griffith Peterson, chief financial officer of the Texas Department of Agriculture.
The announcement follows a meeting by the Sunset Advisory Commission Wednesday. The committee, which is in charge of reviewing the efficiency of state agencies, slammed the department’s awarding of a $110 million contract to software company 21CT. The HHSC is accused of securing that contract outside the competitive bidding process required by law.
The department’s top attorney, Jack Stick, and Inspector General Doug Wilson have both resigned in the wake of this scandal, and a criminal investigation is ongoing. Lawmakers are also considering consolidating the HHSC with the state’s four other health-related agencies this year.
Abbott released this statement:
“In the wake of recent revelations at the Health and Human Services Commission, my transition team has taken steps to ensure there is a full and thorough outside review of management, operations, and contracting at the agency. Consequently, I have asked former Deputy Comptroller Billy Hamilton to lead an independent performance review of HHSC operations. We have coordinated with HHSC Commissioner Kyle Janek on this initiative and he has pledged his agency’s full cooperation with Hamilton’s performance review.”
Mar 28th - 7:30 pm
Christy Hoppe of The Dallas Morning News and Erica Grieder of Texas Monthly joined us to talk about the week’s biggest takeaways, from a significant ruling on abortion law to a continued fight over fair pay legislation.
CHECKING THE FACTS
Plus, Gardner Selby of PolitiFact Texas joined us to take a closer look at one claim about the cost of a health care plan in Texas, along with a surprising take on Senator Ted Cruz’s travel history.
May 8th - 9:14 pm
The odds for Medicaid expansion are shrinking.
Wednesday, House Democrats held a last-minute press conference to say that any chance of expanding the program under the Affordable Care Act is nearly dead.
Meanwhile, Texas lawmakers are scrambling to get support for a statewide law regulating payday lenders. Rep. Mike Villarreal joined us to talk about his effort to keep the measure alive.
Charter School Rally
The number of charter schools in Texas could drastically increase if legislation continues to move forward this session. Republican Sen. Dan Patrick spoke to hundreds of parents, teachers and students at a rally outside the Capitol Wednesday, vowing he’ll do everything he can to see the state pass its first major charter school bill since 2001.
The Quorum Report‘s Harvey Kronberg joined us to talk about that issue and more. Click the logo below to watch the full episode.
Several deadlines are looming that could doom the chances of any bill not already scheduled for a House or Senate floor debate. We spoke with former Democratic State Senator Hector Uribe and former Republican State Representative Aaron Peña about the pressure that process brings.
May 8th - 5:22 pm
House Democrats called a last-minute press conference Wednesday afternoon to announce that if Medicaid expansion isn’t quite dead, it’s certainly on life support.
Yesterday, Republican Rep. John Zerwas conceded that his “Texas solution” to draw down federal money under the Affordable Care Act remains stuck in the House Calendars Committee, with little chance of escape. Any bill the committee hasn’t assigned to a hearing on the House floor by midnight Thursday is unlikely to get a vote.
Rep. Sylvester Turner has proposed a different plan to expand Medicaid, which faces a similar fate.
“Unless we know some way to resurrect the dead, it won’t be resurrected this session,” Rep. Turner said.
Mar 22nd - 11:05 pm
In his first speech since announcing his candidacy for Texas Land Commissioner, George P. Bush played it safe, touting Texas exceptionalism and support for military veterans, among other topics.
Emily Ramshaw from the Texas Tribune, Scott Braddock of the Quorum Report, and Colin Pope from the Austin Business Journal sat down to discuss this week’s events in politics, including Gov. Rick Perry’s discussion with the Shark Tank about his intentions to run for governor.
Democratic Rep. Elliott Naishtat sat down with Paul Brown to give an update on the possibility of Medicaid expansion in Texas. Naishtat also discussed a bill to extend health benefits to domestic partners at state university.
Feb 26th - 8:30 pm
A bill to ban texting while driving is back before lawmakers this session. Texting behind the wheel is illegal in 39 states, and many local ordinances already ban the practice, but it’s a statewide measure that couldn’t get past the Governor’s pen in 2011. Click the image at the bottom to hear more about why it might stand a chance this time around.
Joshua Treviño of the Texas Public Policy Foundation discussed efforts to turn Texas into a swing state. Treviño also shared the strategy he would take if he were a Democrat.
Harold Cook and Ted Delisi sat down with Paul Brown to discuss Gov. Chris Christie’s recent announcement that he would accept Medicaid funding under the Affordable Care Act. They also discussed Gov. Perry’s recent call to re-evaluate testing for Texas students.
Jul 30th - 6:40 am
Gov. Perry announced Austin anesthesiologist and former state senator, Dr. Kyle Janek, will replace Tom Suehs as executive commissioner of Texas Health and Human Services. Perry also appointed Chris Traylor to serve as chief deputy commissioner.
"Texas, like the rest of the country, is headed into a period of the most significant changes in health care in our history,” Gov. Perry said in a press release. “This new leadership team, with Kyle and Chris at the helm, combines unparalleled experience and expertise to ensure Texans continue to have access to the health care they need while implementing fiscal policies that are mindful that it’s taxpayer money they are spending.”
Janek is currently the director of anesthesia services at Lakeway Regional Medical Center. He served in the Texas House and Senate from 1995 to 2008. He graduated from Texas A&M before heading to the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.
Traylor has been commissioner of the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services since 2010.