THIS may not be the third article chronicling the ill-advised maneuvers of Wayne Turnage, the District of Columbia’s deputy mayor for health and human services and executive director of the Department of Health Care Finance. Truthfully, I have lost count of his operatic spins and legislative shenanigans. He is the proverbial gift that keeps on giving.
This week, however, the DC Council sought to halt his misbehavior. In a veto-proof vote of 9 to 4, it passed emergency legislation--Fidelity in Compliance of Contracting and Procurement Temporary Amendment Act of 2021--compelling Mayor Muriel Bowser and Turnage to follow the order issued in December by the city’s Contract Appeals Board.
A semi-judicial agency, the appeals board has the sole authority to settle procurement disputes. That’s what it did, after Amerigroup, then a DC Medicaid Managed Care contractor, filed a series of protests charging the city had mishandled its new $1.5 billion MCO solicitation.
The CAB ruled that, among other things, the executive had violated the city’s procurement laws. It ordered the mayor and her team to reevaluate the four top scoring bidders—AmeriHealth Caritas DC, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, MedStar Family Choice, Inc. and Amerigroup--and revise its selection rankings, if necessary. It also prohibited the executive from exercising its option on the current contract.
Unfortunately, the council’s emergency legislation did not address problems with the Medicaid technology contract that maybe worth at least $100 million. Even before the MCO procurement fiasco, the Department of Health Care Finance had bungled the tech solicitation, prompting a protest from Conduent State Healthcare LLC.
Turnage and his team awarded the contract to DXC, although the company had failed to submit a minority subcontracting plan with its proposal, as required by law. The appeals board ordered Turnage to terminate the DXC contract and issue a new solicitation.
Not unlike with the MCO contract, Turnage has failed to respond to the CAB’s directive. Instead, he has spent his time making disparaging comments about Amerigroup. With the mayor’s blessing, he also has taken various steps designed to circumvent the appeals board, including the introduction of The Department of Health Care Finance Support Act of 2021.
Ward 7 Council member Vincent C. Gray, chair of the Committee on Health, quickly held a public hearing on the measure. It became apparent the legislation was unlikely to gain traction, especially since it also had to be approved by the Committee on Business and Economic Development, headed by Ward 5’s Kenyan McDuffie, who is also chairman pro tempore. He has been a champion of small and local minority businesses. He made clear he would not embrace a law that essentially legalized illegal contracting. Bowser subsequently included the bill in her Fiscal Year 2022 Budget Support Act (BSA).
Last week, Scott Morrow, assistant general counsel for Conduent, appeared before the council’s Committee of the Whole. He told Chairman Phil Mendelson that his company had been the contractor for DC’s Medicaid Management Information Systems (MMIS) for “nearly 20 years.
“In 2020 alone, Conduent processed more than five million claims for medical services totaling more than $1.7 billion in payments to Medicaid providers. [Our] call center handled nearly 70,000 phone calls from the provider community,” continued Morrow, asserting that the BSA measure would alter the rules after the fact.
“Changing the rules of the game after the game will greatly damage the integrity of the District’s contracting process. We urge you to vote against this change,” Morrow added.
Throughout this entire saga, Turnage has frequently misrepresented the facts, including claiming that he had no involvement in the procurement process and that he didn’t have details about whether MedStar had submitted a minority small business subcontracting plan with its proposal as mandated by law.
Consider that on December 23, 2020—just three days after the CAB’s ruling became public—Turnage had begun his campaign to circumvent the order. He exchanged emails with Tracey Jackson, the legislative director for Ward 8 Council member Trayon White, about emergency legislation that ultimately became the Health Care Support Act.
Responding to a request from White’s office to see the MedStar subcontracting plan, Turnage sent a note to Leslie Lyles Smith, the executive director of MedStar Family Choice. He asked Smith to forward the plan to Jackson.
That plan, a copy of which was shared with me, was dated December 18, 2020. It should have been dated in February, since that was when the proposals were formally submitted.
Not only did Turnage have a copy of the plan during the time he told everyone, including the press, that he had not seen the document, he also knew it had not been submitted in accordance with the law.
The delayed submission of the subcontracting plan by MedStar has animated much of Turnage’s efforts. That’s because it violated the law—a fact underscored in the CAB ruling related to the Conduent protest.
The consequences of that violation were clear. Most important, it means the evaluation of the Managed Care contracting proposals cannot include MedStar.
Hoping to prevent the permanent sidelining of his favored contractor Turnage has pretzeled himself and his operation while creating division among legislators and sowing seeds in the public that the council was overstepping its authority by raising concerns about his handling of the Medicaid procurements.
The first time the Fidelity bill came up for a vote on June 1 Turnage was able to get an op-ed published at 8 am that day in the Washington Post. He argued that the council should not be involved in contracting and procurement.
Wasn’t he inviting the council’s involvement by asking it to approve the Support Act—legislation that would sanction a violation of District laws?
Apparently, in Turnage’s world intervention by the legislature is permissible only if it is in service to him--if council members are cleaning up his mess.
This week, legislators received a letter from Gray, containing the allegation of contract steering by Mendelson, McDuffie and at-large Council member Robert White; they introduced the Fidelity legislation. As someone who has tracked correspondence from Turnage, that letter had his imprimatur.
It’s worth noting that when Gray was mayor (from 2010 to 2014), Turnage was one of his first hires. He appointed him director of the DC Department of Health Care Finance. The two have remained close. In other words, Gray appears more loyal to his former employee than his current colleagues.
The council’s 9 to 4 vote on the Fidelity legislation indicates it's growing increasingly weary of Turnage and his various approaches for skirting the law. During the discussion At-large Council member Elissa Silverman expressed her impatience, calling the argument that low-income or disabled Medicaid recipients will be disadvantaged a “red herring,” and asking why, if the program is doing such great things, a sizable portion of that population remains unvaccinated against COVID-19. That vote also suggests the section of the Budget Support Act that includes language that in essence would bypass the CAB probably will be eliminated.
Don’t think that will stop Turnage, however. He has demonstrated that he has no respect for local laws, rules or regulations. He is at once impervious and imperial. That kind of person is dangerous. He certainly shouldn’t be leading the health and human services cluster.