U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann on Wednesday will lend her voice to the long-simmering controversy and congressional inquiry over Minnesota’s handling of its Medicaid program.
A joint hearing on Medicaid fraud in the state of two U.S. House subcommittees is set for Wednesday morning in Washington, and Bachmann will be a testifier before panel, along with the Minnesota’s Department of Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson and David Feinwachs, a former counsel for the Minnesota Hospital Association.
The panel will be wading into the political hot-button issue of Medicaid fraud and government spending in general. A joint state-federal health insurance program for the poor, Medicaid, and alleged fraud in particular, is a frequent target of budget-cutting Republicans in Washington and around the country.
The questions over the state’s Medicaid program have proven to be a closely watch and politically charged issue in Minnesota as well. The inquiry stems in part from the $30 million returned from UCare to Minnesota coffers last year as part of a clawback of HMO profits. Federal officials questioned whether the state was entitled to keep the entire sum, because Medicaid costs are shared by both the state and federal government.
The state this week agreed to split the $30 million with Washington, and U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa credited this week’s hearing and the broader Medicaid fraud inquiry with that result.
“Faced with a Wednesday hearing before the House Oversight Committee,” Issa said in a statement, “the State of Minnesota today ended its denial of a refund to federal taxpayers over a so-called ‘donation’ it received from UCare, a Medicaid contractor.”
But the $30 million spawned larger questions — and struck a nerve with whistleblowers in Minnesota — over whether the HMOs that handle the state’s Medicaid managed care programs have proper oversight. That has led to calls for regular audits of the HMO contracts as well as separate inquiries and investigations from both the U.S. House and Senate along with the federal government itself.
Minnesota’s situation is not the specific focus of Wednesday’s hearing, but one frequent critic of insufficient HMO transparency, Republicans state Sen. Sean Nienow, said last week that it will be a focus and main driver the hearing.
“They were looking at this more broadly originally,” Nienow said at a news conference last week announcing the hearing. “As things continued to pop up here in Minnesota, they basically said that they were looking more and more and more at Minnesota. I don’t know that this will be exclusively focused on Minnesota, but it will be significantly focused on Minnesota.”
The hearing will be divided into three separate panels, and Bachmann will appear on the first along with U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, who has been leading the Senate’s inquiry of state-based Medicaid fraud. Grassley has specifically raised questions about Minnesota’s situation and Nienow and other state officials, including Jesson and the Department of Human Services, have been in talks with Grassley’s office in recent weeks.