The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

March 5, 2013

Welfare official welcomes probe

John Finnerty
CNHI Harrisburg Bureau

HARRISBURG — The acting secretary of the Department of Public Welfare said the agency welcomes a probe by the auditor general of the botched transfer of payroll services from 37 vendors to  a single provider that left 20,000 home care workers unpaid in January. Some time sheets are still being rejected nine weeks later.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale notified the welfare department on Friday that his office will begin a review on March 11 of DPW’s handling of the transfer from the 37 providers to PCG Public Partnerships.

Acting Welfare Secretary Beverly Mackereth told the Senate appropriations committee that the $46.5 million deal to switch payroll services to PGC Public Partnerships, based in Massachusetts,  did not save the state any money.  The move was intended to simplify a payment system that had been relying on too many vendors.

Most states only use between one and five vendors for payroll services of home care workers, Mackereth said. Consolidating to one vendor had been recommended by the federal government,  she said.

The move has been plagued by problems for months.

Donna Kirker Morgan, a welfare department spokeswoman, said that in some cases, companies abruptly stopped handling payroll services months before they were supposed to cease the chore. In other cases, companies failed to pay workers in the final weeks of their contracts or did not forward documents or all of the correct data needed to handle the payroll.

Sen. Shirley Kitchen, the Democratic chairwoman of the Senate public health and welfare committee, said home care workers are getting squeezed because the state and the new agency are being overly cautious about trying to make sure that there are no overpayments.

“They are always talking about rooting out waste, fraud and abuse, but they are hurting a lot of people,” Kitchen, D-Philadelphia, said Tuesday afternoon.

Kitchen said some of the confusion relates to questions about whether home care workers should be billing for time spent traveling between clients.

Morgan said that the workers should not be paid for their travel time because the Medicaid payments are directed through the client receiving service. If a care worker is helping more than one person, he or she would be getting paid separately by each client. Under this funding model, there would be no one to pay for the travel time.

“Maybe they were getting paid for their travel time in the old days. Maybe that’s something the auditor general will find,” Morgan said.

DePasquale’s audit will examine a number of points, including what kind of transition plan was in place and whether the $46.5 million contract for PCG Public Partnerships “was reasonable.”

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