What Gives You the Authority? (Part II)


Nine days later, I wake up to the realization that neither Greg Allen nor Notchaca has followed up, so I call Notchaca.  She tells me that she called Heidi at DOH and Heidi said she would take care of it; she would mail me the authorizing document.  Well, she didn’t, I say, and then get Heidi’s phone number.  I call Heidi, identify myself, and she immediately puts me on hold.  Shortly thereafter Tim picks up the call.

Tim Perry-Coon is the Medicaid transportation specialist for Central New York in the NYS Department of Health.  We have had many occasions to exchange words in the past decade.  Not one of them has been satisfactory to me.  So I tell Tim what the problem is.  He asks some clarifying questions, then says “That’s totally inappropriate” and my jaw drops.  Will wonders never cease?  So Tim and I decide that he will email a notification to Wayne Freeman that he’s to stop doing this, and I will get a copy of the email.

From: Timothy J. Perry-Coon [mailto:tjp03@health.state.ny.us]
Sent: Thursday, November 17, 2011 11:57 AM
To: Wayne Freeman
Cc: Anne Woodlen
Subject: Policy and Procedure Regarding Inquiry of Purpose of Travel to a Medical Site

Good morning Wayne,

Anne Woodlen telephoned me and asked about the level of questioning a Medical Answering Services (MAS) call taker can ask, without violating an enrollee’s health care confidentiality. While it is understood that MAS staff are bound by HIPAA confidentiality, you indicated that the call taker should have expected only the destination of the trip when speaking with Ms. Woodlen, in order to verify that the destination was a medical health care site. The follow-up question as to the reason Ms. Woodlen was going to this medical site was inappropriate and the call taker has since been re-trained.

Please continue to educate your call representatives about this circumstance. Additionally, please ensure that the call is immediately referred to an available supervisor when a caller is hesitant about responding to the various DOH-approved questions asked during the trip reservation process.

Thank you.

MAS dispatches rides for nearly two hundred thousand poor people in New York State, and MAS employees have regularly and consistently degraded every one of those people by forcing them reveal private information in order to get transportation.  The primary question here is does a poor American have to accept humiliation that is not applied to any other American?  Does poverty eliminate an American’s right to being treated with respect?  Does the fact that you, the taxpayer, are giving me money also give you the right to demean me?  My self-respect is not for sale.  You do not get to drug-screen Welfare recipients just because you are giving them money.  How about we drug-screen everybody who applies for a driver’s license?

Wayne Freeman is a private businessman who has a contract with Onondaga County.  The NYS Dept. of Health has official guidelines about what can and cannot be asked of a Medicaid recipient.  Freeman created new policy.  There is no indication that he ever informed the county or the state that he was doing so.  So the first problem here is that Onondaga County contracted with a guy who doesn’t do right.  They did it knowingly; they gave a no-bid contract to a couple of ambulance drivers, Freeman being one of them.

The second problem is that there has never been any complaint process.  Medicaid Answering Services would do whatever Freeman, a known deviant from proper behavior, decided to do.  [In re known deviancy:  the NYS Office of the Medicaid Inspector General fined Freeman $80,000 and forced him to sign a Corporate Integrity Agreement.  Thereafter, Onondaga County continued his contract.]  Freeman was under no supervision and there was no complaint process for the two hundred thousand clients Freeman was supposed to be serving.  If a Medicaid recipient objected to anything Freeman directed his staff to do, then the recipient couldn’t get to the doctor; it was simple.  You keep the lower class in line—your line—by denying them services if they don’t kiss your butt.  Butt-kissing is illegal in this country (see also:  Penn State).

The Inspector General’s actions changed that—but nobody has told the two hundred thousand.  No notification has gone out to Medicaid recipients about their right to file a complaint, and how to do it.  MAS call-takers are supposed to be trained in how to take a complaint.  They aren’t.  Under the Corporate Integrity Agreement, MAS had to hire an Independent Review Organization that could monitor their complaints.  The Inspector General’s Office won’t give out the identity or contact information for the Independent Review Organization.

Keep in mind that when I complained to the supervisor at MAS about the question being asked, she told me it was a DOH regulation.  She lied to me!  It is totally and completely wrong to have to file a complaint with the agency against which you are complaining.  The only way you can keep a government agency—or subcontractor—honest is by having access to someone outside said agency.

The only way government can work is if “the people” have open access to oversight agencies.  There has to be a feedback loop.  The government has effectively separated itself from the people.  This is one of the ways they do it.  In 2011, the government of the United States of America is not of the people, by the people and for the people.  Those people who are employed by the government do not see themselves as “the people”; they see themselves as “the government.”  They understand that to mean they have unchecked authority to abuse the people who have business with the government.

Government administrators must institute feedback loops whereby citizens are supported in filing complaints against government employees.  Failure to do so will result, ultimately, in “the people” overthrowing the government.  [See also:  Occupy Everywhere.]

I still believe it is my government and I will not tolerate abuse.

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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5 Responses to What Gives You the Authority? (Part II)

  1. Toni says:

    Anne,
    You are a great writer. You have conveyed the situation so well. I was right there along with you fighting the good fight. It reminded me of the time I got fired for reporting sexual harrassment to my male boss and his male bosses. Long story and not quite the happy ending as yours. All of us little people are going to have to demand transparency in government. We have been bullied to long and it is time to stop the insanity. We should all Occupy our streets. Your passion, sense of right and wrong, perserverance and the telephone are among your arsenal of weapons. Great job!

    • annecwoodlen says:

      My friend calls it “squishing ants.” We set out to change the entire system but end up just squishing a few ants. But it matters. It matters a lot that each of us take action against the wrongs perpetrated by the sytem every time we see them. The most important thing is not how it changes the system, but how it changes each of us. It has made me so strong that I will be dead three days before I realize it.

  2. telula68f says:

    I learn SO much from your posts. Thanks a million times for putting this information out here for us to see. I am surprised but not surprised by some of what you have uncovered. As far as I’m concerned I don’t know why I should be surprised at all!

  3. JackJoe says:

    Have you noticed a “change” though with the transportation calls in general?
    I have.
    Maybe I’ve just gotten lucky with who picks up my call. I don’t know. But before what used to Nearly-Always be a long and weary call has now been more pleasant. Really, no joke! and no i do not work for them. 🙂 The worst calls were for the Out-Of-County trips I need to take once a week.
    It needs to be re-upped every so often – that they’d tell me – but HOW often was some kind of Secret.. theirs to know and me to guess apparently. I’d find out usually the day-of when I’d call the driver and they’d tell me no papers were there for any ride. This has gone on for years.

    However NOW when I call I’m given a re-up date to call Before to make sure I don’t miss a call. I have not been Lied to this year concerning forms that were supposedly faxed over to my doctor for confirmation (confirmation that I MUST go OUT of County for whatever this service is was required) Though it used to be several times a year event – This year? – zero times.
    : “Your call is a tad too late for service” Speech? Zip.

    Has it improved At All in your case?

    • annecwoodlen says:

      Do you live in one of the counties “served” by Medical Answering Service (MAS)? (I put served in quotes because they view it as their power trip, not as a service to poor people.) If so, then the reason your service is somewhat better is because the Corporate Integrity Agreement MAS had to sign contains a lot of language about actually TRAINING the employees. If you continue to have trouble, then tell the call-taker that you want to speak to a supervisor, then file a complaint. If that doesn’t work, let me know and I’ll follow up either with the Office of the Medicaid Inspector General or the NYS Dept. of Health.

      In my case, I get anything I want. If I requested a ride to the moon, it would be approved. Why? Because I kicked butt. I refused to accept horrifically substandard service, so I reported it to the county Medicaid office. Come to find out that the county Welfare attorney was the one who was ordering them to provide substandard service, and he’d let the $250,000 dispatch contract without putting it out for bid. I believe that Freeman, et al, paid off the Republican Party to get the contract. I went to my county legislators, who condoned the activity.

      I went out-of-county and filed a complaint with the state, then got totally screwed by the county—I was illegally denied all transportation. So I went to my state legislator and got my complaint filed in the Office of the Medicaid Inspector General. I literally spent years pushing and pulling at that office to get them to do the investigation and formalize the results. MAS had to pay back $80,000 to the state and sign the Corporate Integrity Agreement. In the course of these events, Greg Allen, who oversees the multi-billion-dollar budget at the Dept. of Health, got interested in Medicaid transportation–which had previously been ignored–and started making statewide changes and bringing Medicaid transportation into some kind of coherent plan. He’s planning to take authority away from the counties and make Wayne Freeman deal with him to get a contract. This may or may not be a good idea; I do primarily believe in home rule, but what if “home” is being run by corrupt politicians? I still have the ear of Greg Allen and recently got another change made, authorizing Medicaid transportation to Emergency Rooms during the night.

      The consequence of all this is that Wayne Freeman has put a note in my file that his employees are to give me anything I want and not ask questions. It pays to be an activist. I am guessing that Freeman still has things he wants to hide and doesn’t want to trigger me taking any closer look at what he’s doing. The down side of this is that I no longer am getting the same treatment as everybody else and am not exposed to the problems, so I don’t know what needs to be fixed. You all must let me know how you’re being treated so I can continue to fix things.

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