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Alton Telegraph- Editorial: State’s Politics as Usual Making Us Sick- as Usual

Posted: Thursday, September 19, 2013 6:00 am
Read original editorial here: http://www.thetelegraph.com/opinion/editorials/article_a833b2c0-20ce-11e3-9bd8-001a4bcf6878.html

It’s perfect timing that aspects of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, kick in starting Oct. 1 in Illinois.

We’ll need it, because the behind-the-scenes string-pulling, arm-twisting and allegations of impropriety are making us sick.

This week, the government transparency pushers at Open the Books released the findings of nine months of investigation by a six-person team looking into the implementation of Illinois’ Medicaid changes. The group found “questionable dealings, taxpayer risks, no transparency [and] millions in insider deals.”

That’s before it even brought up the booze, the cruises, the private parties and the Cuban cigars.

“Illinois is laughing at procurement law and the feds are approving the no-bid deals. The president’s home state gets an Obamacare exemption — from the contract procurement process,” founder Adam Andrzejewski said.

Contracts of any significance — and value — are usually put out for bid. This puts vendors on an even keel, allows the state to scrutinize the price and the company itself. That would have been the case with an Obamacare-related information technology system known as a Medicaid Management Information System that could cost as much as $190 million.

But by partnering with Michigan, which already has a contract in place, the rules change. Illinois says it will save more than half of the cost of the system by going this route, but it also raises questions about the openness with taxpayers who are footing the bill.

That is a significant concern because the Maryland-based Client Network Services Inc. has Michigan’s contract. This is the same CNSI that is the subject of a criminal probe in Louisiana and, according to the National Review, “has a history of questionable quality, overrun project budgets, and litigation in several other states.”

Maine showed the company the proverbial door, Utah is dealing with a number of complaints about CNSI and Arkansas disqualified the firm from being able to bid on projects.

The company must know Chicago politics well, though, because Open the Books cites a combination of public records and whistleblower reports indicating CNSI did such things as rented a two-story cruise boat for a private party for officials from Michigan and from the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. There was wining, dining, boozing and schmoozing. There was another party back on land and a private party for the real movers and shakers.

Back in Illinois, whistleblowers say several employees would regularly receive gifts of wine or Cuban cigars.

Such acts would have been a no-no under the state’s ethics law, which prohibits accepting gifts or food worth more than $75. Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services officials downplay or deny any of it took place.

CNSI knows a good deal when it sees one. Millions upon millions of dollars, protection against competition, and little oversight.

Sounds like the usual Illinois prescription.

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