Palm Beach County Health Care District officials claim that federal regulations prohibit the district from contracting with the county inspector general’s office. In fact, federal regulations do no such thing, and the district should reinstate the contract it dropped last month.
During an 80-minute meeting with The Palm Beach Post, district board chairwoman Carol Roberts and general counsel Nicholas Romanello insisted that the district had to cancel that contract to comply with new rules under the Affordable Care Act. The district didn’t get an opinion from any federal agency.
“We consulted with our lawyers,” Mr. Romanello said, “who have opined that it would be problematic.” But the board voted to cancel the contract three weeks before receiving the opinion. “I’ve always believed in accountability and transparency,” Ms. Roberts said. But the April 10 memo from the outside law firm is dated one day before Ms. Roberts and Mr. Romanello met with The Post, which had sought the meeting much earlier.
The Boston-based firm Ropes & Gray advised the district that the federal government requires an internal compliance program and external auditing as needed. The firm also noted the expense of the inspector general’s contract — about $360,000 a year vs. $260,000 for the district’s internal compliance and auditing department.
“The District may conclude,” said the memo, “that resources are best spent on enhancing internal compliance overall, including internal auditing, rather than on external auditing that may be of more limited effectiveness.” The firm did not says, however, that any federal rule or regulation precludes a contract with the inspector general. Inspector General Sheryl Steckler said there is no reason that an internal compliance officer and an independent inspector general “cannot co-exist.”
Ms. Roberts noted that many state and federal agencies monitor the health care district. None of those agencies, however, monitors the district board. Board members are appointed by the governor and the county commission, but do not report to either.
The health care district manages a $256 million budget, most of which comes from county taxpayers. The district, however, will not answer to county taxpayers once its contract with Ms. Steckler ends in June.
The board contracted with Ms. Steckler only after The Post reported on a $4 million land deal that benefited the district’s real estate agent, a lucrative contract to a former district employee and faulty management that resulted in the loss of thousands of dollars. “I have no problem,” Ms. Roberts said of Ms. Steckler, “if she wants to investigate the board or anything.” Fine. So at the May 8 board meeting, Ms. Roberts should make a motion to reinstate the contract. The board is out of excuses.
for The Post Editorial Board