LITTLE ROCK — An audit report scheduled to be released to legislators on Friday is premature and will paint an inaccurate picture of the state Medicaid program, Gov. Mike Beebe and state Department of Human Services officials say.
The co-chairmen of the Legislative Joint Audit Committee, Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, and Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, asked the Division of Legislative Audit to release the results of a special audit of Medicaid to the committee. DHS says it has not had adequate time to respond to auditors’ findings and questions the accuracy of the findings.
King said Thursday that he and Hammer requested early release of the report because Medicaid is a driving issue of the current legislative session.
"We cannot wait till March, until the session’s already down and maybe a lot of policies are already passed or addressed. It is important for this to come out," he said.
Legislators are deciding how to address a projected budget shortfall in the government health program for the poor, the elderly and the disabled, and whether to expand the program under the federal Affordable Care Act. Republicans have said the program’s costs are driven up by waste, fraud and abuse.
Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said Thursday that if the audit report raises legitimate problems, those will be addressed, but he said the governor is concerned because "these are steps we have not seen from legislative audit in the past."
"Traditionally, agencies or anyone under purview of Legislative Audit has had the chance to have what they call an exit conference, where they’re allowed to review the findings and discuss their accuracy before they’re released. That’s not happened," DeCample said.
DHS said in a statement Wednesday that release of the report on Friday "is very premature and highly unusual, especially considering we have repeatedly expressed concerns about its accuracy, the accounting methods used and the impossibly short time frame our agency has had to respond."
The agency accused the committee’s leaders of deliberately trying to make DHS look bad.
"In all of the years that DHS has worked with Legislative Audit, we have never seen a report like this in tone. It uses sensational but rare examples and questionable methodologies to paint the program in the worst light," the agency said.
King said Thursday he was not surprised by the reactions from DHS and the governor.
"I think there’s going to be serious questions raised and there’s some serious issues that are in the report, so I think they’re just trying to pull the political game of discrediting it and attack the messenger," he said.