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June 2013 Column - Lorigo hopes Comptroller’s Report answers questions surrounding Medicaid application process


OFFICE HIGHLIGHTS

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Nearly every dollar of Erie County property taxes goes to pay for the county's Medicaid bill, which totals more than $211 million each year. That is an important figure for Erie County residents to understand, especially as the Comptroller's Office is investigating claims that Medicaid recertification applications may not have been processed properly, which could lead to costly penalties for the county.

 

Recently, documents associated with Medicaid applications were found among sensitive personal papers improperly disposed of by the Department of Social Services (DSS). The Comptroller stated before the Legislature that his office was banned from accessing those same documents while conducting an investigation of DSS.  The Comptroller's auditors had been following a whistleblower's tip that claimed county employees were directed to recertify Medicaid applications without verifying income or other information provided by the applicant.  In essence, DSS workers were rubber stamping applications for Medicaid. Clearly, this is an extremely serious matter that could be very costly for the county.  If anything was done inappropriately or rules were not followed, I believe this needs to be addressed immediately.

 

It is my understanding that the Comptroller's Office is preparing to close its investigation and that a report is expected to be brought forward shortly. Medicaid costs continue to be a huge burden on taxpayers, and the cost grows significantly each year.  Therefore, each application and recertification must be thoroughly reviewed without exception.

 

As a Legislator, it is my job to ensure that Erie County is not paying benefits that aren't warranted. Rubberstamping recertification applications without reviewing qualifications would be unfair to the taxpayers of Erie County.  Simply put, it creates an environment to waste taxpayer dollars, rather than invest them in helping people.  As far as I am aware, there are regulations put in place and we trust that the county will follow and abide by those regulations to ensure we are best serving all residents of Erie County, and respecting the taxpayers who fund the services.

 

I find it interesting that in 2012, the County Executive pushed for the creation of the Medicaid Anti-Fraud Task Force to investigate and expose provider-level waste, fraud, and abuse within the system. Yet we are now talking about county employees being directed to "rubberstamp" Medicaid requests. I would have expected an administration focused on stopping and preventing Medicaid fraud to have a strict policy concerning how employees handle applications. Why wasn't the imposed Task Force investigating this issue?

 

Currently there is a lot of concern surrounding DSS and how it handles personal information. I look forward to reviewing the entire report to understand what occurred and what effect this would have on the county.

 

Anyone with questions or concerns about a county matter can contact my Legislative Office at 858-8922 or email joseph.lorigo@erie.gov and I would be happy to discuss them with you.