Updated: Sep 21, 2021
“THE contract extensions at issue represent an impermissible exercise of authority by the mayor and therefore may not be deemed approved.” That was part of the conclusion reached by the general counsel for the DC Council.
Her comment appeared in a memorandum Council Chairman Phil Mendelson sent out on Sept. 10 to his 12 colleagues, advising them of the options before them after Mayor Muriel Bowser submitted for the legislature’s approval extensions of the three Medicaid managed care contracts. She justified that move by first declaring a Health Care Resource Emergency.
Both of those maneuvers by Bowser were designed to coerce the council into riding her wave of lawlessness. That began late last year, when, instead of following an order by the DC Contract Appeals Board to re-evaluate the managed care contracts that had been awarded in violation of the law, Bowser and Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Wayne Turnage tried to push through legislation that would have legalized the illegal contracting in which the administration had engaged.
Meanwhile, the DC Health Alliance Network LLC, one of the city’s largest community-based health care organizations, has filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Civil Rights Division, accusing MedStar Health Systems of civil rights violations. Ambrose I. Lane Jr., the Alliance chairperson, said several other groups and individuals have joined the fight, including the DC Chapter of the NAACP, The Center for Racial Equity and Justice, The Missionary Baptist Minister Conference, Ward 5 Advisory Neighborhood Commission Robert V. Brannum and Rev. Kendrick Curry at Pennsylvania Ave. Baptist Church. The coalition is expected to hold a press conference next week to discuss its complaint and potential actions going forward.
And, Amerigroup DC filed the initial protest with the CAB against the District. This week it entered another complaint. Among other things, it cited the “irrational, arbitrary and capricious effort by the District to steer a contract award to MedStar away from Amerigroup—” although MedStar’s proposal “had been deemed fatally deficient by the [Office of Contracting and Procurement], according to lawyers at Reed Smith LLP, who are representing Amerigroup.
The latest complaint follows the organization’s request earlier this month that the CAB sanction Turnage for the illegal disclosure of private information that also was under protective order.
The protest by Amerigroup is a scathing indictment that tracks the Bowser administration’s lawlessness. It provides solid groundwork for a lawsuit; if filed, Amerigroup is likely to win through litigation or settlement. District residents could be left with multimillion-dollar bill because the mayor and her team consistently refused to follow the law.
In a prepared statement, Tony Felts, the spokesperson for Amerigroup DC, echoed the opinion of the council’s general counsel: The mayor didn’t have the authority to issue an emergency order or to seek extensions of the existing contracts.
“Circumventing the CAB’s order and the procurement process to exercise options extending contracts that were unlawfully awarded through a flawed procurement is not only bad governance, but also a disservice to the D.C. residents who rely on access to quality healthcare support and services from the Medicaid program and on the integrity of the District’s procurement practices,” he added.
In his memo, a copy of which was obtained by me, Mendelson told legislators that they could do nothing. They could choose to disapprove the contract extensions proposed by Bowser or they could act to overrule the CAB.
He recommended against the latter move. Later in the day, he, along with Council members Kenyan McDuffie, Elissa Silverman and Robert White, signed a resolution disapproving the extensions. The council now has more than 35 days to decide what it will do next.
When I asked Mendelson to release the general counsel's full opinion, he declined. "It’s not mine to distribute.”
The general counsel, Nicole Streeter, did not reply to my email requesting a copy of the document.
Earlier this week, Bowser issued a statement trying, yet again, to point the accusing finger at the legislature: “As the current contracts expire on September 30, 2021, any action by the Council that delays approval of the emergency contracts beyond this date will effectively terminate the Medicaid managed care program in the District.”
Health care advocates like Lane and others, including myself, continue to hold the mayor accountable for this seemingly never-ending operatic saga. After all, the CAB issued its ruling in December. The administration has had since then to conduct the re-evaluation ordered that would correct procurement violations and rectify biases that were found in the process.
Bowser has presented herself as an executive more interested in supporting a senior manager, than following the law or demonstrating integrity and courage. She has used vulnerable Medicaid recipients as pawns in her effort to steer a contract to MedStar, a health care giant that has thumbed its nose at the needs of poor and working-class District residents by threatening to terminate critical services to legitimate government contractors. It’s the worst case of taking the ball and going home.
A macro view of the past several months suggests that Bowser is generally failing poor people. It took her what seemed like forever to ramp up Stay DC, a rental assistance program largely funded by federal money, created to help people affected by the pandemic.
She has left Black first-time homebuyers , many of whom are women with children, at 1262 Talbert St. SE trying to figure out how to repair their condominium complex after a city-subsidized developer cut corners, creating potential dangers like those witnessed in Surfside Florida. She agreed to provide a meager cash assistance grant of $7,000 for each household, forgive a second District-held mortgage on several units, and provide them the opportunity to apply for an emergency housing voucher. But her administration has failed, thus far, to find a way of relieving those homeowners of mortgages on property that they can no longer occupy, according to an engineer's report.
Now Bowser has abandoned Medicaid recipients, favoring MedStar.
That history could erode the public's trust in her leadership, damaging her potential for re-election should she decided to mount a campaign. Maybe Bowser already understands that. Why else would you issue a banner prepared statement on Wednesday heralding the fact that the Children’s National Hospital has signed an agreement to locate at the planned GW Hospital on the St. Elizabeths campus.
The agreement is great, but how will it change the “landscape?” Children’s National Hospital already has multiple operations east of the Anacostia River, including one clinic on Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE and another at TheARC on Mississippi Ave. SE in Congress Heights.
Bowser and Turnage know that. The announcement is additional evidence of their willingness to manipulate and mislead residents in service to their egos and reputations.