Bad timing

There’s never a good time to have a scandal in a gubernatorial administration, but the one that’s apparently hitting Gov. Tim Pawlenty is especially ill-timed.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press, citing sources, says an employee of the Department of Human Services allegedly stole $1 million from the Medical Assistance program for the employee’s personal use.

How does one person in an agency of 7,200 people steal a million dollars by him or herself without anyone noticing until now?

According to the paper, that question — and any others — will go unanswered:

Terry Gunderson, a spokeswoman at the Minnesota Department of Human Services, said no information about any ongoing investigation would be made public.

Now, about that timing thing. The state just went hat in hand to the federal government (most of the money that funds the state’s Medical Assistance program is federal money), asking for more time to explain why Minnesota shouldn’t lose $130 million in federal assistance to provide health insurance to low income adults.

Federal Medicaid money is normally targeted for kids, but Minnesota already insures low-income kids through the state-funded (with a tax on health care providers) MinnesotaCare program, so Minnesota uses the money to insure their parents, by virtue of a waiver from the federal government allowing it to do so. The feds are threatening to eliminate the waiver.

Minnesota isn’t the onliy one fighting this kind of battle. The feds are also threatening to strip the cash from Massachusetts, which also has a state-subsidized health care program. That state is trotting out a heavy hitter in the battle, Sen. Ted Kennedy, who is Kennedy, who is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions,

It’s been that kind of political year; Ted Kennedy may turn out to be Tim Pawlenty’s best friend on the issue.

Update 1:48 p.m. By way of MPR’s Tim Pugmire at the Capitol we have an update from Sen. Linda Berglin:

Berglin, who heads the committee that oversees state health care funding, said the embezzlement stretches back more than six years and began before current anti-fraud measures were put in place.

Berglin said she suspected that the employee invented a fictional health care provider to skim payments.

“If this would have happened today it would have been discovered right away,” said Berglin, who heads the Senate Health and Human Services Budget Division. “The systems that are in place today were not in place when this began.”

Berglin said she didn’t know how the fraud was detected, but called it a huge breach of trust.

So now the question isn’t when did it begin, but when did it end?

  • Elizabeth T

    Where’s the government’s vested interest in “creative problem solving reducing the [federal] government’s role”? We manage to insure two groups of people for the same cost to Uncle Sam – why not let us? States’ Rights! battle cry of the Confederacy ought to still be ringing.

    Yet another “we aren’t going to tell you anything about anything and want you to trust us that we’re doing the right thing after failing to notice a million dollars missing”.

    Yeah. Sure. You betcha. When pigs fly.

  • alittletickyforalittletacky

    do you think that maybe DHS has not been careful in who they hire. i see/hear about alot of abuse of power, (ie: accessing drivers license records for individuals own purposes aka bribes). who gets hired? well maybe peggy’s daughter or susie’s niece or fireman joes son. the state system is totally infested with incest.

  • Bob Collins

    You hire 7,000 people, you have a good chance of getting at least one crook (yes, I realize he/she has not been convicted). I don’t think it’s at all indicative of the DHS employees.

    If true, it’ll be interesting to see the “why” of it. In recent embezzlement cases around here, it’s usually involved a gambling problem.

    But, still, how does ONE person steal a million dollars? (I’m assuming it was done over a period of time)?

    I presume there’ll be a legislative hearing on that question at some point.

  • L Decker

    A small note: It’s incorrect to say the federal government pays most Medicaid (Medical Assistance) costs. While the federal share varies by state, in Minnesota the split is about half federal money and half state money.

    I am very sorry a state employee apparently did this, and I take heart from State Senator Linda Berglin’s comment that anti-fraud measures instituted in the last several years would prevent anyone from starting the same thing now.

    I encourage you, if you are feeling self-righteously anti-government, to remember how many stories appear in the media about private-sector embezzlement and nonprofit embezzlement. I’ve seen many headlines like this: “Long-time employee apparently stole for years” and “Church treasurer skimmed offerings for house addition.” This happens because organizations don’t put financial controls in place, and the temptation is too much for some people, especially if they have a gambling or drug addiction or some other financial pressure. I am by no means excusing this person, but the problem is not a government problem, it’s a human problem.

  • Bob Collins

    I don’t feel anti-government, if you’re referring to me, I do feel that the data privacy laws make it difficult for anyone to be accountable to the taxpayer in this situation.

    I’m pleased, as a taxpayer, that Minnesota has put financial controls in place. Put me down as absolutely aghast that Minnesota didn’t have financial controls in place earlier, though.

  • Mark Gisleson

    Actually, it does make a huge difference when this started. By my math you’re saying Ventura was governor, and that this would have been easier to stop at the beginning than it was to catch it later.

    But, if this really were all Gov. Ventura’s fault, Pawlenty’s administration would have thrown this criminal under the LRT ages ago.

    There simply is no reason to trust any Republican politician nowadays. This stonewalling just convinces me that Pawlenty is hiding something, which appears to be his usual M.O.

  • Gretchen Dee

    I work in the health care system. DHS is a burecaucratic system laden with fraud and abuse. It is built into the work that is done there. It’s not even necessarily always about individual employees. Hopefully this will lead to increased transparency and accountability for DHS. BTW, I am a Democrat and believe in a safety net for vulnerable citizens.