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Mecklenburg Gets State Approval To Drop Cardinal Innovations Healthcare

cardinal innovations Alex Olgin WFAE.JPG
Alex Olgin

Mecklenburg County has received state approval to split from Cardinal Innovations Healthcare, after more than a year of accusing Cardinal of poor service.

North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services on Friday approved the county’s request to drop Cardinal and switch to using Alliance Health for coordinating behavioral health care for its Medicaid recipients. DHHS also approved Forsyth, Davie, Davidson, Rockingham and Orange counties’ requests to switch managed care providers. Cabarrus, Stanly and Union counties officially split with Cardinal earlier this year.

Mecklenburg’s transition will take place between Oct. 1 and Dec. 15, Dave Richard, the deputy secretary of NC Medicaid, said in a letter to county managers. Cabarrus, Stanly and Union counties will switch to Partners Behavioral Health Management starting Sept. 1.

Leaders in Mecklenburg and neighboring counties have complained about problems with Cardinal for more than a year. During a County Commission meeting in February 2020, Assistant County Manager Anthony Trotman accused the company of denying or delaying care for 42 children in the county. Cardinal officials said they were not invited to the meeting.

Roughly nine months later, Mecklenburg commissioners unanimously voted to start the process of severing ties with Cardinal, after many voiced concerns that Cardinal was still delaying care for residents, including children, and that the company had a limited network of health care providers.

“We’ve moved past the time to try to remedy this issue,” Stanly County Manager Andy Lucas told WFAE in November 2020. “It just seems like we’re told time and time again that they’re ‘working on it.’ At some point, it just becomes lip service versus action.”

Cardinal released a “county action plan” in November 2020 that it said would improve its services and address county concerns.

In the plan, which Cardinal said was effective immediately, it said it would issue treatment authorization decisions within 72 hours for foster children and individuals who visit the emergency department two or more times within two months. The company also said it would remove authorization requirements for a “broad category of outpatient and community-based services.”

In July 2021, Cardinal received state approval to consolidate with Vaya Health.

Health and Human Services must approve counties’ decisions to disengage from local management entity-managed care organizations like Cardinal. Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s Health and Human Services secretary, has said her agency takes the concerns raised about Cardinal “very seriously.”

Cardinal has a history of problems in North Carolina. In 2017, a state audit found the company’s CEO was using tax dollars on expensive trips for its board members. The state health department took over Cardinal briefly and fired its board of directors.

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