Some proponents of Medicaid expansion are accusing Mississippi’s state auditor, Shad White, of trying to undermine the effort by releasing a report this week that put a heavy emphasis on fraud in the government insurance program.
This newspaper has been a proponent of Medicaid expansion for a decade, but we’re not ready to join those criticizing White.
First off, he is doing his job. Secondly, his audit of Medicaid actually strengthens the argument for expansion.
Starting with No. 1 ...
From the moment the smart and driven White was appointed state auditor, he has taken seriously his responsibility as a watchdog of the public’s money. He’s gone after embezzlers and spendthrifts of all types, all economic classes and all political affiliations. We haven’t seen a sacred cow yet that the Republican has been scared to take on. His agency, for example, took the lead in exposing one of the largest alleged frauds of public money in state history, one that involved a GOP appointee, John Davis, and a GOP darling, Nancy New.
White’s agency is legally required to audit Medicaid and other state programs that receive federal funding to try to ensure that the money is being properly spent and serving the people for which it is intended.
This year’s audit found in a sampling of 180 beneficiaries a fraud rate of 5%, which the State Auditor’s Office claims is on the high side nationally. Particularly raising eyebrows were two individuals who allegedly have six-figure incomes and live in million-dollar houses but were enrolled in the program that is supposed to serve the poor.
White’s recommendation to fight such fraud is to give the Division of Medicaid the authority to access the state income tax returns of beneficiaries so as verify what they put on their application for benefits. Medicaid officials initially have not sounded enthusiastic about the idea, but their disinterest is a bit perplexing. Maybe they need to be a little more concerned with fighting fraud, too.
As for No. 2 ...
White’s report focuses on the people who are abusing the taxpayers’ generosity by getting publicly funded health insurance they have the means to pay for themselves. It’s not about the working poor who are caught in the middle, earning too much to qualify for Medicaid under Mississippi’s stingy current income limit but too little to be able to afford private insurance.
Reduce the fraud that currently exists in Medicaid (White roughly estimates it at $130 million to $145 million a year), and those savings further weaken the Republican argument that the state simply can’t afford to expand Medicaid, even though the federal government will cover nine-tenths of the cost.
That a couple of fat cats have been able to game the system does not weaken the moral and economic arguments for extending health insurance to those living just above the poverty line. If anything, it should produce a sense of outrage against those who are opposed to the expansion.
Mississippi needs both a broadening of Medicaid eligibility and a crackdown on fraudulent beneficiaries. These two efforts can work in tandem, not in opposition.
Together, they would do the most good for the people who need the most help.
- The Greenwood Commonwealth