In October 2005, I received a letter illegally kicking me off Medicaid transportation, signed by Zachary Karmen, Chief Welfare Attorney of the Onondaga County Dept. of Social Services. That was the first I’d ever heard of Mr. Karmen.
Medicaid transportation was, at best, substandard and, at worst, grossly corrupt. I had worked my way through the Dept. of Social Services and the County Legislature in an attempt to rectify the problem but nothing had been done so I filed a substantial and lengthy complaint with the NYS Dept. of Health. I expected my complaint to be held in confidence but instead, within hours of it being read in Albany, it was sent back to Onondaga County.
Dept. of Social Services Commissioner David Sutkowy discussed it with Attorney Zachary Karmen—Karmen said so—and then, again within hours, Karmen kicked me off Medicaid transportation and told me I had to take the bus. Medicaid transportation is authorized based on a doctor’s order, not a lawyer’s pique—except in Onondaga County, where we do things differently. Clearly, I was being terminated to send a clear message: I was to shut up and be subservient.
I suppose the brothers Sutkowy and Karmen figured that would be the end of it: deprive a poor, sick Medicaid recipient of services and we’ll never hear from her again. The king has spoken. Unfortunately it was me, Annie, they were dealing with and I was heavily invested in right, truth, justice and not getting screwed, so I filed for a fair hearing. It was a violation of Medicaid regulations to change the level of services without thirty days written notice and notification of the right to a fair hearing, but that’s what the brothers had done. It is also a violation of the Constitution to deny someone government services because she has exercised her right to speak freely and criticize that government but they had done that, too. This is Onondaga County.
So I got a fair hearing, which Chief Welfare Attorney Zachary Karmen prosecuted. He has a staff of paralegals who do this stuff for him but he did mine himself. Why would he do that? An opposing attorney said Karmen only did fair hearings once or twice in a decade, so what was so important about my fair hearing that he did it himself? Why did he need to make sure this one went away? Was it because my complaint to the NYS Dept. of Health was so substantial and legitimate? It was a complaint against Wayne Freeman, doing business as Medical Answering Service, and Kathleen Hart, doing business as the Medicaid director of Onondaga County.
So there was a fair hearing with Zachary Karmen prosecuting and me defending because I couldn’t get a lawyer. Poor people usually can’t get lawyers in New York State and oh, by the way, Legal Aid was under contract to the Dept. of Social Services with Zachary Karmen as the contract officer. So I lost the fair hearing and had to take the bus. Case closed—well, not quite. Medicaid transportation was still screwed up, so I filed a complaint with the NYS Office of the Welfare Inspector General and told a Medicaid transportation vendor I had done so. He sent my email to Karmen, who wrote an email in which he identified himself as my enemy, accused me of being “a one-woman conspiracy,” and said he would contact the Inspector General. This was not business as usual; Karmen had it in for me. Consequently, no state investigation took place. (And what’s with the one-woman conspiracy thing? Karmen went to law school. Didn’t he learn that it takes a minimum of two people to conspire?)
Well, maybe I did conspire, which is to say, I had a long talk with myself and came up with a new strategy. In January 2007 I took my complaint to Senator David Valesky, who got it placed with the newly formed NYS Office of the Medicaid Inspector General, which sent two investigators to sit by my bed and listen to my story of intimidation, retribution and generally bad-assed victimization all because I said something was not right with Medicaid transportation and it should be fixed.
Medicaid transportation vendors bill the state about $8 million a year. The dispatch contract, which was held by Wayne Freeman and Russell Maxwell, doing business as Medical Answering Service, was worth about a quarter of a million dollars. And Freeman and Maxwell had gotten the contract without submitting a bid. And who was the contract officer? Chief Welfare Attorney Zachary Karmen. The contract never went anywhere near the Division of Purchasing, which is charged with making sure that the Onondaga County government is doing a good job of spending the taxpayers’ money. The Dept. of Social Services, under David Sutkowy with Zachary Karmen presiding, is doing its own purchasing.
At this point my health got a whole lot worse and my doctor sent in a new application for Medicaid transportation. I got the transportation—for two weeks, then it was canceled again, this time with nothing in writing. I filed for and got another fair hearing, with Zachary Karmen again prosecuting. This makes no sense to me. The Dept. of Social Services is spending more on prosecuting me than it would cost them to transport me. What is the motivation behind this? The county isn’t trying to prevent a rich woman from stealing services—it’s just poor, sick, middle-aged me in a wheelchair—so I figure this must be about Freeman and Maxwell, and protecting them.
Why would the county be so heavily invested in defending the screw-ups who run Medical Answering Services? Why are they protecting a bad subcontractor? Why don’t they just ditch them? (To be continued)