- Associated Press - Thursday, April 30, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - How much money can the state save by weeding out waste and fraud from Minnesota’s public programs? It depends who you ask.

Behind the hours-long debate over the state’s mammoth budget for health care and human services the House passed Wednesday morning is a divide over the estimated savings from an audit of programs such as Medical Assistance. And it’s a big divide with big implications for the state’s budget, the St. Paul Pioneer Press ((https://bit.ly/1bGmqQG ) reported.

Majority House Republicans who assembled the budget are banking on $300 million in savings over the next two years, and say they could save even more. But House Democrats point to a fiscal estimate from the Department of Human Services saying those projected savings are much lower: just $16.5 million.

Rep. Matt Dean, the Republican who authored the health care budget, said he relied on a recent audit of health care programs to set a larger goal, as well as similar crackdowns in Illinois and Pennsylvania. Each state removed more than 100,000 ineligible enrollees, saving hundreds of millions of dollars. But both states are several times larger than Minnesota.

Still, GOP lawmakers remain confident they can trim $300 million - or more - in waste and fraud by rechecking eligibility of enrollees more frequently and speeding through a backlog of unchecked cases that goes back years.

They say the administration’s estimates aren’t ambitious enough, citing an Office of the Legislative Auditor’s report from last year that found about 17 percent of enrollees surveyed weren’t eligible for their program. Though that audit surveyed less than 200 individuals, it picked from a small pool of Minnesota’s public program

“The actual waste and abuse is probably far greater than we budgeted here,” Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, said before the House passed the health care budget bill.

Even the Department of Human Services’ analysis notes there is likely more waste to be found than the $16.5 million it pegged over the next two years. By mid-2019, that could rise to nearly $160 million or more.

But the House GOP’s budget doesn’t have four years to drum up those savings. It depends on rooting out the whole $300 million sum in order to fund other priorities, including a $2 billion tax relief package.

House Democrats said eliminating waste and fraud from public programs is a worthy pursuit but said the state shouldn’t bet its budget on a shaky estimate.

“If we count on all these savings and they’re not real, we head right back to deficit budgeting,” said Rep. Erin Murphy, a St. Paul Democrat.


Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, https://www.twincities.com

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