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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Linda Runbeck (R)

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Legislative Update from Rep. Linda Runbeck

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Dear Neighbors,

The Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) has been in the news all summer for a variety of issues including leadership turnover and agency dysfunction that has resulted in overpayments totaling more than $100 million.

Here’s a timeline of some of the issues that have affected DHS this summer and fall:

  • On July 22, the Star Tribune reported that Faye Bernstein, a lead contract specialist at DHS, claimed she had been retaliated against for raising concerns about “serious non-compliance issues” with DHS contracts.
  • On July 29, the former medical director of DHS’ Medicaid program circulated an open letter saying DHS leadership was “hostile and dismissive” towards the advice and concerns provided by himself and other medical professionals.
  • Also on July 29, former head of the DHS Office of Inspector General Carolyn Ham was transferred to the DHS Office of General Counsel, returning to work despite being under investigation for her role in failing to prevent pervasive fraud in the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP).
  • On August 1, the Pioneer Press first reported on $25.3 million in overpayments to two tribal governments for Medicaid substance abuse treatments. That number was later revised to $29 million in overpayments.
  • On August 16, the Star Tribune reported that Mohamed Alfash, who was the equity coordinator in the DHS Office of Inspector General, was fired as a result of retaliation for concerns he raised within DHS.
  • On August 26, Deputy Commissioner Claire Wilson announced her intent to resign, just weeks after rescinding her previous resignation prior to the departure of former DHS Commissioner Tony Lourey.
  • Also on August 26, the Pioneer Press reported that DHS will be required to reimburse the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services approximately $48 million for improper payments to institutions for mental diseases.
  • The Star Tribune reported on November 6 that DHS violated state law more than 200 times over the past year with $52 million in contracts and grant commitments to vendors, Indian bands and other state government agencies without proper documentation.

At the end of October, the nonpartisan Legislative Auditor (OLA) released a special review that took a closer look at the $29 million in overpayments to tribal nations.

In its report, the OLA revealed that DHS repeatedly approved a billing practice that effectively resulted in double-billing to the federal government—once for an in-person visit, and multiple additional reimbursements when patients self-administer medication at home.

All of this reveals a state agency in turmoil and makes clear that serious reforms and accountability measures are needed at DHS.

As for the Star Tribune report that DHS violated state law more than 200 times, I think it’s time for the Ramsey County attorney to investigate and determine if individuals should be prosecuted. Additionally, it’s time for the agency to take action and fire any employee who knowingly violated state law, as well as managers who were aware of the behavior and failed to stop it. Failing to fire those responsible sends a message that the status quo is acceptable and that there are no meaningful consequences for violating the public trust, misusing taxpayer dollars, and breaking state law.

Either way, DHS should find the dollars within their own $18 billion budget to pay back the millions of dollars they misspent.

Subcommittee on Legislative Process Reform

On Tuesday, the Subcommittee on Legislative Process Reform held a hearing to discuss ways we can reform the state budget process. Serving as the Republican-lead on the subcommittee is an honor and something I take very seriously.

The legislative process in St. Paul has eroded over time with more power and decision-making authority being concentrated with the Governor, Speaker, and Senate Majority Leader. This is not the way the legislative process was designed and hurts the democratic process.

I am hopeful that this subcommittee will bring several reform proposals to the House Rules Committee once session begins.

Staying in Touch

As always, I encourage you to reach out to me to share your questions and concerns regarding state government. I can be reached by phone at 651-296-2907 or via email at rep.linda.runbeck@house.mn.

Linda

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