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Auditor's group lauds controversial warning

An audit warning over Oregon Medicaid eligibility that was criticized by Democrats as politically motivated has been honored by the National State Auditor's Association.{img:202161}

Dennis RichardsonA controversial warning that state auditors issued last year about the state's Medicaid system has won an award from the National State Auditors' Association.

The one-page document from the Secretary of State's Office was intended to notify lawmakers that thousands of Medicaid recipients may have been ineligible for the program due to a backlog of annual "eligibility determinations" at the Oregon Health Authority.

The work received an "excellence in accountability" award in the special projects category from the NSAA, which recognizes non-audit reports and other "products" created by a state audit team in a series of criteria, including "major service impact," "progressive, forward-thinking perspective," and "usefulness to customer."

At the time of its release, though, the alert raised some eyebrows, and many Democrats dismissed it as politically motivated and criticized its accuracy. They maintain that legislators were well aware of many of the eligibility problems at the Health Authority, and that they were monitoring the agency's work to resolve them.

Multnomah County Auditor Steve March, in an op-ed in The Oregonian, called the alert a "publicity stunt" that failed to capture the complexity of the situation and didn't follow best practices or protocols.

"The ill-conceived news release about the 'auditor alert' hyped a worst-case scenario of cost numbers about Oregon Health Authority spending on Medicaid and misrepresented federal eligibility rules without input from those with direct knowledge of the process," March wrote. "Key facts were ignored, most glaringly that the health authority has been giving regular updates to state legislators."

Secretary of State Dennis Richardson appeared to throw shade at these criticisms in an announcement about the award Wednesday.

"It's refreshing to see the hard work of our auditors rewarded with national recognition, rather than downplayed with accusations of playing politics," Richardson said. "Our Audits Division has been setting an example of professionalism, transparency, accountability, and integrity for the entire country."

The alert was released toward the end of the long legislative session, as lawmakers were negotiating the biennial healthcare funding package. The eligibility issue continued to dominate state news and ultimately played a role in inspiring three Republican legislators to refer the funding package to the ballot in a January special election (voters affirmed the legislature's plan).

NSAA members — state auditors or their designees — judge the awards. None of the judges have submitted awards in the category they are judging.

"Each judge independently ranks the entries and those rankings are averaged to come up with a winner," Glenda Johnson, communications manager for the National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers and Treasurers, the parent organization of NSAA, wrote in an email to Oregon Capital Insider on Thursday.