Statesman reporter J. David McSwane first uncovered this story back in August while doing a routine story on Medicaid fraud. He found that the Austin-based tech company 21CT received a no-bid contract that violated state procurement laws. From there, news about the agency got worse.
“If you ask HHSC, they will tell you that the majority of their contracts run smoothly and effectively and bring perfect, great services to the community,” Statesman reporter Andrea Ball says. She’s also been covering the scandal. “You could see as early as 2003 some major problems with our privatization. It started out with trying to privatize these call centers that would make people eligible for Medicaid and benefits, and that didn’t work, and after two years that was almost a billion dollar contract and we had to cancel that. It’s just gone on over the years, and this is just the latest iteration of problems, scandals.”
During the Statesman investigation questions were also raised about the exact amount of money involved.
“We set out to gather the relevant data that can show you how many contracts there are, for what amount, how big they became, what was spent,” McSwane says. “When you start looking at it, the agency, Health and Human Services Commission, can’t really account for its own contracts. At the same time, the legislative budget board which is supposed to have sort of the macro view of all state agencies contracts, their data is messy to the point of useless.”
Ball says it’s hard to fathom the amount of money possibly being wasted on no-bid contracts, while other state services suffer from lack of funds.
“All of these hundreds of millions and billions of dollars. It sounds like monopoly money when we talk about it. It’s just not even real anymore-there’s just so much,” Ball says. “We have people in our Human Health and Services programs that aren’t getting food, that aren’t getting healthcare, that aren’t getting buildings taken care of. We can talk about these giant amounts of money, but basically, we are talking about people.”