Miss. Medicaid head, att’y gen’l trade accusations

Published 1:11 pm Friday, September 25, 2009

Mississippi’s Medicaid director told lawmakers Wednesday that Attorney General Jim Hood has refused to prosecute a possible case of $24 million in fraud by a man paid to provide behavioral services to patients.

“He wouldn’t get in there,” Medicaid’s Bob Robinson said of Hood.

In an interview later, Hood said he didn’t know the details of the case Robinson discussed. However, speaking of Medicaid officials, Hood said: “If they showed us a criminal case, we pursued it.”

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Hood accused Robinson of trying to protect a rural hospital that filed for bankruptcy after allegedly misspending $24 million from Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the needy and disabled.

“He needs to resign and get out of that agency because it has been mismanaged,” Hood said.

Robinson later did not directly respond to Hood’s remarks, but told The Associated Press through spokesman Francis Rullan, “I continue to stand by my comments.”

Robinson’s comments came as he appeared before the Joint Legislative Budget Committee to discuss Medicaid’s spending request for the year that begins next July 1. He told lawmakers he believes there is fraud and abuse in the program.

When Democratic Rep. Percy Watson of Hattiesburg pressed for details, Robinson replied: “Listen, it’s not the beneficiaries. It’s not even a blip on the screen. It’s the providers.”

Medicaid providers include hospitals, nursing homes, physicians, dentists, pharmacists, therapists and others who are paid to give services to patients. Officials say 605,289 people were enrolled in the program as of Aug. 31 — nearly one in every five Mississippi residents.

Robinson said he suspects a $24 million of fraud occurred two or three years ago when a behavioral services provider in northern Mississippi overcharged to drive patients to medical facilities where they were shown movies.

Robinson would not release the name of the person.

“Look, I’m not going to tell you that if he hasn’t even been indicted,” Robinson told The Associated Press as he left the legislative meeting.

Robinson told lawmakers that federal prosecutors also have shown no interest in the alleged fraud.

House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, said he found that difficult to believe.

“Well, by God, we want to track it down,” McCoy said.

House Public Health Committee Chairman Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, said he told Medicaid officials years ago about the provider he believes Robinson was discussing Wednesday.

Holland said the man was providing daytime care for mildly and severely mentally disabled adults at several hospitals, which Holland considered “very valuable services.”

Holland said, though, that he wasn’t sure whether the provider was properly billing Medicaid for the transportation and other services.

“I warned Medicaid that he bore to be watched,” Holland said.

Holland said he thought Robinson was trying to create “political fodder” against Hood by making public accusations that the attorney general refused to prosecute possible wrongdoing.

Hood is a Democrat and is a frequent critic of Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, who appointed Robinson to the top job in Medicaid.