Congressional hearing set on Minn Medicaid spending

9:13 PM, Apr 18, 2012   |    comments
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ST. PAUL, Minn.  -- A California Congressman has scheduled a hearing to delve into how states account for the Medicaid money they receive, and will call several Minnesotans to testify. US Rep. Darrell Issa will convene the hearing next Wednesday, April 25.

"I've been told that Congressman Issa will focus a great deal on Minnesota in these hearings," Minnesota State Senator Sean Nienow told reporters at the State Capitol Wednesday.

Sen. Nienow and other state lawmakers have been pushing for more transparency and accountability in the contracts the Department of Human Services grants to HMOs to take care of lower income Minnesotans enrolled in certain public health plans.

Governor Dayton's commissioner of human services, Lucinda Jesson, is among those who will testify at the April 25 hearing at the U.S. Capitol. 

Another witness will be David Feinwachs, who has often described the Medicaid-funded health programs in Minnesota as a "black box."

The invitations to the hearing described a broad goal of making sure that Medicaid money is spent wisely and goes for health care, both at the federal and state level.

But the official title of the hearing is, "Is Government Adequately Protecting Taxpayers from Medicaid Fraud?"

There is not evidence of fraud in Minnesota's health programs, or in the way the HMOs handle Medicaid money.  The Department of Human Services has been producing documents for a federal agency investigating the question and for the Office of the Legislative Auditor in Minnesota.

Nienow suggested that Congressman Issa, and U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, are keenly interested in how the state handled a $30 million donation from one of those health plans in 2011.

The payment from U-Care came after Governor Dayton asked the HMOs to voluntarily return some of their excess earnings, or profits, made from handling the state's health plans for the poor in 2010 and 2011.

The payment was termed a "donation" but was also referred to as a refund by others. It prompted some watchdogs to claim the federal government was entitled to half of the money.  That's because some of those health plans for the poor were financed with a blend of state funds and federal Medicaid money.

Nienow said Congresswoman Michele Bachmann is also expected to take part in the hearings.  In February, Bachmann applauded the federal investigation and denied there was no partisan motivation for putting the contracts under the microscope.

Transparency Bill

Dayton was the first governor to require that the HMOs competitively bid for the state's business, and that they cap their profits made from the public health plans paid for by the state.

But lawmakers want a better handle on how money is spent within those programs, rather than just the bulk numbers of how many are served.

Sen. John Marty of Roseville, asserts that the state should have more of an interest in how the money is spent, because the programs cost state and federal taxpayers $4 billion every two years.

"HMOs say, 'Oh we do all these audits, all these reports,' all this stuff," Marty said, "but there's no way to get the information we need, the specific data about what medical care was provided for the money."

A bipartisan bill that would call for independent third party audits of those programs has stalled in committees during the 2012 session, and authors claim those bills have been significantly watered down.

When pressed to reveal where the resistance is coming from, Rep. Carolyn Laine said it's a bit of mystery. "I'd have to say follow the money," Rep. Laine said, hinting that the health plans themselves are fighting the types of audits legislators have in mind.

"Everybody's all for it on the surface."

(Copyright 2012 by KARE. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. )

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