Human Services commissioner to testify before Congress on Medicaidby Elizabeth Dunbar, Minnesota Public Radio
ST. PAUL, Minn. — A congressional hearing scheduled for next week will focus heavily on questions over Medicaid accountability in Minnesota, state lawmakers announced Wednesday.
State Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, said the hearing called by U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., focuses on oversight of state and federal Medicaid dollars.
"I've been told by Congressman Issa's staff that there will be a significant focus in this hearing on Minnesota," he said.
Nienow said he expects a $30 million donation the state received last year from the managed care plan, UCare, will be discussed during the hearing. State officials heralded the donation at the time, but it has since come under scrutiny with U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, asking if some of the money should have gone to the federal government, which also funds Medicaid.
Department of Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson said she plans to testify at the hearing scheduled for next Wednesday in the Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs, Stimulus Oversight and Government Spending. Jesson reiterated the state's contention that the UCare donation was a gift rather than a reimbursement to be shared with the federal government.
"I'll answer any questions the Congress folks have," Jesson said. "I'll certainly talk about our efforts to save federal and state taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. We've been successful in that."
Jesson noted Minnesota has capped the managed care plans' profits, introduced competitive bidding and started a new inspector general's office to combat fraud.
"Minnesota has a lot to be proud of," she said.
But Nienow said he wants to know more about the state's correspondence with federal Medicaid officials on the UCare donation. Legislative Auditor James Nobles has also asked questions about the UCare donation. Nienow said he is trying to schedule a legislative hearing on the issue.
During a news conference at the Capitol attended by members of both parties, Nienow called on his colleagues to pass legislation that would require an independent audit of the managed care plans such as UCare and Medica that carry out the state's Medicaid contracts.
Lawmakers are concerned about whether the health plans are making too much money off of state programs. But Rep. Carolyn Laine, DFL-Columbia Heights, said she thinks that the so-called HMO transparency bill could be watered down by the time it makes its way through the legislative process.
"It's coming from both sides, and in a sense I guess you could use the old precept of 'follow the money,'" Laine said, questioning whether lobbying groups might be influencing the bill.
Nienow agreed. "On the record, everybody likes it," he said. "No one's come and testified that this is a bad idea."
Jesson said DFL Gov. Mark Dayton supports the legislation, including the third-party audit provision. She said she's still hopeful the Legislature will pass it.