- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York’s newspapers:

The Albany Times Union on New York’s Medicaid program.

June 2

The challenge for New York’s $62 billion Medicaid program has long been to root out waste, fraud and abuse. But what to do when it’s the state that’s perpetrating all three?

Several current and former public employees allege that the state pressured them to make it look as if there was less fraud in the program than they were finding in an audit. As a result, close to $1 billion worth, or more, may have gone unaddressed. Talk about waste, fraud, and abuse of public trust.

The employees, some of whom formerly worked for the Research Foundation for the State University of New York, were assigned to audit the massive program to find out how many recipients were actually ineligible for Medicaid, the health program for the poor and the disabled. But as the Times Union’s Brendan Lyons reports, the employees say they were told by superiors at the Research Foundation and state Health Department to alter their data. Why? Because if the state let too much fraud occur, it could lose federal funds.

The state last year agreed to pay $3.75 million to end a Justice Department probe of the allegations. At the same time, it admitted no wrongdoing - not to hiding fraud, nor to retaliating against the people who sought to expose it, like several who were fired.

In one case, Health Department auditors were finding a pattern of false claims for dead people, out-of-state residents, or otherwise ineligible recipients that, over three years, added up to about $970 million. The result? One employee who brought the problems to light was relieved of his duties and barred from work.

Meanwhile, it seems that every time state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office looks in a corner of the Medicaid program, it finds money being wasted. In just the last year, it found a $95,000 overpayment for a baby covered under the low-birth-weight program because its weight was listed at 7 ounces instead of 7 pounds. It overpaid millions for group therapy because no one noticed that the bills were coming in for $200 a person rather than the correct rate of $35.16. Millions more were wasted covering people who were covered by other insurance.

We don’t underestimate the challenge of managing the nation’s costliest Medicaid program, nor in preventing fraud in such a rich target. But at every step of the way - from the county offices that approve undeserving applicants to a state bureaucracy that pays improper bills to management that pressures diligent employees to gloss over errors - this program appears to be a mess. And the internal fraud leaves us skeptical that the Health Department is up to taking a hard look at its own problems.

That leaves the independently elected Mr. DiNapoli, who should undertake a top-to-bottom audit of Medicaid, looking for institutional weaknesses, rather than chipping away at it one piece at a time.

Yes, that’s an ambitious goal that would require monumental effort. But considering just the fraud and abuse we’ve seen so far, it’s reasonable to assume it would not be a waste.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1eNLSpe

The Batavia Daily News on records pertaining to the 1971 Attica Prison riot.

May 30

It seems such a simple request: Release all of the records relating to the 1971 Attica Prison riot. Let people see the results of investigations and studies and reports. Inform their opinions so they see the lessons to be learned and can move on.

The response has been anything but simple. The records were sealed and secret until state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman supported their release two years ago. Those records included the 570-page Meyer Commission Report, written by former State Supreme Court Justice Bernard S. Meyer, and which contained grand jury proceedings. On May 21 this year, more than 43 years after the violence that propelled Attica into the national vocabulary, the 46 pages detailing some of the factual basis for Judge Meyer’s findings were released. Those pages are heavily redacted. Another 350 pages remain sealed.

This partial release of records is the result of a decision last year by Justice Patrick NeMoyer, who was willing to allow a fuller history of the riot but felt the need to protect the secrecy of grand jury proceedings. Few can be happy with the result. Malcolm Bell, a former state prosecutor credited with raising the questions that led to the Meyer study, read the redacted report. His reaction, when coming upon a redacted page, he said, was “What the hell happened (next)?”

The Forgotten Victims of Attica, a group formed in 2000 and consisting of widows and family members of prison staff killed during the riot, has long sought release of full records. They recognize that the full reports may be distressing to read, but believe they are necessary for complete healing.

Truth is elusive and complex. Even if every report and every record were to be released in full, the full truth of those days would not be revealed. Every person who was there, inmate, correction officer, official, reporter or onlooker, possesses a pixel or two of the whole picture. The more pixels of information we have, the better and truer the picture. The full records need to be made public.

What happened at Attica Prison in 1971 was brutal and horrific. Thirty-two inmates and 11 prison staff members were killed. That’s 43 families who deserve full disclosure, still, 43 years later. Without full disclosure, there cannot be full healing, nor can the full lessons be learned.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1GkjuY4

The Oneonta Daily Star on judging criminal suspects based on race and religion.

May 30

On the surface, threats against an upstate New York Muslim community and a shootout between rival biker gangs in Texas don’t seem to have much in common.

But listen to some of the comments that followed these two incidents.

After Robert Doggart of Tennessee admitted to plotting to destroy the Muslim hamlet of Islamberg near Hancock in Delaware County, a spokeswoman for the community called for hate crime and terrorism charges to be filed against Doggart, who was an unsuccessful independent candidate for Congress in 2014.

“We acknowledge that there is a double standard,” lawyer Tahirah Amatul-Wadud said in a May 18 media conference. “We believe that any person that purports to be Muslim who behaves in a way that is inconsistent with the laws would be charged with terrorism.”

And, you know, she has a good point.

It is hard for us to imagine that, had the roles been reversed and a Muslim admitted his plans to burn down buildings and “cut (people) to shreds,” as Doggart had said he would do, that he or she would be facing more than five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Doggart’s sentence was the result of a plea deal worked out with prosecutors. Contrast this with the case of Zachary Adams Chesser, who pleaded guilty to posting threats online against the creators of the television show “South Park.” According to court documents, Chesser posted the home addresses of Matt Stone and Trey Parker, and encouraged readers to “pay them a visit,” after the cartoon show depicted the Prophet Mohammad.

Chesser - a Muslim - was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Now, consider Waco. Coming as it did on the heels of riots in Baltimore, where the bad behavior of rioters was picked over by pundits across the political spectrum, the fatal gunfight between armed biker gangs and police drew little commentary about the perpetrators. And more than a few people noticed this discrepancy.

“Nine people were killed in Waco, and yet you have not heard the level of disgust and dismay as you did over fires burning in Ferguson and in Baltimore,” observed Nicole Lee, a human rights lawyer who worked with protesters in both cities. “One of the things the protesters always said was that while many of them disagreed with the property destruction, that you can rebuild property. But you can’t bring back people, and yet you’re not hearing an equal amount of disgust from the media and from people over what happened in Waco.”

Of course, the two incidents are not apples to apples. In Waco, there was no looting and no rioting, and there was one episode that took a matter of hours. It’s also true that few people (white or otherwise) leaped to the defense of the bikers.

But after Waco, as after Islamberg, we are left with some uncomfortable truths about how much more harshly our society often judges a criminal - or a suspect - based on race and religion, rather than on the nature of the crime itself.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1KMw0Rd

The Gloversville Leader-Herald on IRS security and the theft of taxpayer information.

June 1

Thieves stole about $5.8 billion from the Internal Revenue Service in 2013, by taking tax refunds due to people whose personal information they used to make the claims. The haul for this year (the IRS has not released 2014 numbers yet) will be substantial, too because IRS officials did not react effectively to warnings their computer systems were vulnerable to hackers.

Personal information of about 100,000 taxpayers has been stolen by sophisticated criminals who obtained it from IRS systems, the agency revealed last week.

Computer security experts have warned the IRS is an excellent target for hackers. No doubt the agency took some countermeasures but they obviously were inadequate. Now, the question is whether officials can close the hole through which the 100,000 sets of personal information were stolen, and whether they will install safeguards effective in thwarting the next assault. Rest assured, there will be one or, more likely, a multitude of them.

Members of Congress upset about the identity theft reported are right to insist the tax agency do better in safeguarding personal information, for two reasons:

First, the agency may be the only one-stop shopping location available for identity thieves. Not only can they learn what targets are most lucrative, but they also can steal refunds. Then, they can use personal information to steal more from other sources.

Second, those who believe businesses such as banks and credit card firms are not safeguarding personal information can take their business elsewhere.

But Americans have no choice about giving the IRS tons of information about themselves and their finances. It is one law the criminal class just loves.

___

Online:

http://bit.ly/1SVRu0z

The New York Times on airport security.

June 3

The performance of airport security screeners on a recent investigation by undercover agents was appalling. The screeners failed to detect weapons, mock explosives and other prohibited items 95 percent of the time at airports across the country, which may be a shock to travelers who assumed the hassle of screening was worth it if it kept them safe.

The investigation by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general reportedly found that undercover agents were able to get prohibited items through security checkpoints in 67 out of 70 attempts. The report on the investigation is classified, but ABC News broadcast the findings on Monday. The network said that one undercover agent was stopped when he set off an alarm, but that the screener who patted him down afterward failed to detect a fake explosive device taped to his back.

After the ABC News report, Jeh Johnson, the secretary of homeland security, said he took the findings “very seriously.” He added that he ordered corrective steps at the Transportation Security Administration, the unit in his department that is responsible for airport screening. He cautioned that “the numbers in these reports never look good out of context” but acknowledged that such covert tests are a critical element in the evolution of aviation security.

It’s hard to see how such an incredibly high failure-to-detect rate could be considered anything other than a harbinger of potential disaster. Security experts say planes remain a high-priority target for many terrorists.

Mr. Johnson stressed that travelers are protected by multiple layers of detection and protection, “many of which are not visible to the traveling public.”

The corrective steps he is taking, some of which are already under way, make good sense. He directed the T.S.A. to brief all airports on the findings and fix the vulnerabilities revealed by the covert test. This would involve retraining airport security officers, re-evaluating all security equipment and conducting more covert tests to determine how well the new measures work.

The Obama administration has been disturbingly slow to give the T.S.A. strong leadership at the top. The previous administrator, John Pistole, announced on Oct. 16 that he would be stepping down Dec. 31. Yet it was not until April 28, nearly seven months later, that President Obama nominated a successor, Vice Adm. Peter Neffenger, second in command of the Coast Guard. In the interim, the T.S.A. has been run by acting administrators, one of whom was reassigned on Monday in the wake of the screening test debacle and replaced by his acting deputy. A bipartisan group of senators expressed concern about the vacancy in a letter to the president in January because of evolving threats to the nation’s airports.

Admiral Neffenger looks like a solid choice based on more than three decades of experience in the Coast Guard, during which he coordinated security at the big ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, and was involved in the cleanup of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. He has strong support in both parties. He should be confirmed as soon as possible to give the agency stable leadership as it works to plug the holes in the nation’s airport security.

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Online:

http://nyti.ms/1MkNpyi

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