State Audit Identifies Nearly $1 Million In Potential Overpayments Of Taxpayer Money

Oregon Health Authority building.jpg

The Oregon Health Authority has not done enough to prevent the potential misspending of millions of dollars of taxpayer money, an audit by the Secretary of State’s office found.

The report, released Wednesday, focused on a free federal data tracking tool that aims to prevent improper payments by tracking down dead people who are still receiving or benefitting from public funds. In 2017, Oregon auditors recommended that the Oregon Health Authority use the tool, called Do Not Pay, to prevent improper payments after discovering that the agency had misspent at least $88 million of taxpayers money. 

The health authority disputed that finding and said it would not use Do Not Pay because the system “would be unlikely to provide significant value to the agency.”

The agency said it did not have data that could work with the federal system, auditors noted. The health authority also argued that using the tool would eat up a lot of staff time and therefore be costly to the agency.

So state auditors decided to challenge that assertion. They used Do Not Pay to track dead people both inside and outside Oregon. They identified $790,000 in improper payments that the state was able to recoup or save from being paid out in the future. Most of that money involved payments by the Oregon Health Authority to a coordinated care organization on behalf of a dead member, the Secretary of State’s office said.

The exercise entailed less than 80 hours. In all, the tool saved $286 for each dollar invested in tracking down dead people, the audit said.

“There was almost a million dollars in benefits and the cost was 80 hours of staff time so it was a small amount of staff time,” said Ian Green, lead auditor.

Auditors also said that they saved the state $6 million by identifying two people on Medicaid who did not respond to an eligibility questionnaire and should have been dropped from the system but remained because someone typed in 2108 instead of 2018 as an end date for benefits.

The health authority oversees Medicaid, a $6 billion a year program serving 1 million people, while the human services is in charge of other public assistance programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and Employment Related Day Care. Together, they account for $10 billion a year in state spending.

Green acknowledged that the savings identified by Do Not Pay were small in comparison.

The state already runs data tracking to identify public benefit recipients who have died in Oregon. But the federal tool uses several databases to check death records in other states as well. 

In response to the audit, the health authority said it will adopt Do Not Pay, which is free to users.

“Over the past two years, OHA’s current improper payment detection tools have avoided more than $140 million in costs for taxpayers, but we always look for ways to strengthen our ability to prevent fraud, waste and abuse,” the agency said in a statement. “We are fully integrating Do Not Pay into our existing array of cost-saving analytics.”

You can reach Lynne Terry at [email protected] or on Twitter @LynnePDX.

News source: