Counties across the state are resisting requests from Minnesota’s Department of Human Services to help pay back $9 million in improper payments.
DHS plans to send invoices next month to each county to inform them of their share of the costs. The improper payments were related to the use of federal Medicaid funds to cover the cost of care at chemical dependency treatment centers that didn’t qualify under federal law.
According to MPR News, the bills range from $46 to $2.2 million—the amount Hennepin County is expected to pay back to the state. The mistake is just one of a number of issues that caused a total of $106.5 million in errant payments over the last six years.
Counties are now saying their budgets are set for the next fiscal year and argue that they shouldn’t be expected to pay for the state’s mistakes.
“We do not believe that we should pay for this,” Jennifer DeCubellis, deputy administrator for health and human services in Hennepin County, told The Star Tribune. “I don’t have that money laying around. If I pay it, I am going to have to shut down other services.”
Dakota County and St. Louis County, which is on the hook for almost $700,000, are both saying they shouldn’t be expected to pay back the money.
Matt Massman, executive director of the Minnesota Inter-County Association, said in a recent op-ed that the agency’s attempt to claw back money from counties is “the heart of this mess.” He explained the issue succinctly, noting that DHS “over-collected from the federal government” when it came to chemical dependency treatment services.
“The essential role of counties in delivering state programs results from the way the Minnesota service delivery model differs from most states’. Minnesota is one of only a handful of states where state human service programs are state-supervised, but county-administered,” he said. “In the recent chemical dependency over-collection error, the domino effect, whereby DHS errors result in counties having to repay funds, stems from a choice made by the state to mandate that counties fund a portion of these service costs.”
“These are all state programs. So why are a portion of the costs shifted onto county taxpayers? All too often the answer is simply to help balance the state budget,” Massman added. “Why does this matter? In short, it wastes the time and energy of expert county and state staff. It contributes to inequities across the state. And it redirects county expertise into administrative processes rather than into collaborative county-state efforts to find better ways to help vulnerable Minnesotans.”
As a result of the errors, some lawmakers want to consider breaking up the agency when they return for session in February.
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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of Battleground State News, The Ohio Star, and The Minnesota Sun. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo “Minnesota Capitol” by Gabriel Vanslette. CC BY 3.0.