Oversight needed to monitor Medicaid program

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Legislative oversight

is a term used in Columbus to describe one of the more formal efforts to monitor the progress of state agencies in achieving goals set by legislators.

When this oversight involves a program of particular importance or interest, legislators typically set up a committee to get regular briefings. This was the genesis of the Joint Legislative Committee on Medicaid Technology Reform

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several years ago.

Last year I sat in on some of these meetings as my involvement in Medicaid issues grew, even though I was not a member.

This year I serve as vice-chairman. That is a reflection of my role as the point person for Medicaid issues among Senate Republicans.

Membership of the committee consists of both Senate and House members which is why it has the name “joint committee.” Chairmanship of the committee alternates each year between the Senate and House. Rep. Shannon Jones from Warren County is chairman this year.

As the name suggests, the committee was designed to monitor the efforts of the Department of Jobs and Family Services to deploy technology to help manage the $24 billion Medicaid program.

Approxi-mately 40 percent of the state budget is devoted to Medicaid spending.

Since technology is a common thread that runs through all Medicaid programs, this committee serves as a forum for discussion about all Medicaid topics.

For instance, at our meeting last week we heard briefings from the director of the Medicaid Department, Cristal Thomas, and Barbara Riley, director of the Department of Aging.

As part of her overview, Thomas updated committee members on the status of Medicaid Information Technology Information System (MITS). The department awarded a $100 million contract earlier this year to replace our outdated computer system to provide better tools to manage the Medicaid program. Your federal tax dollars are paying for 90 percent of this project, and your state tax dollars are paying the balance.

The urgent need to replace the old technology was one of the primary recommendations of the Commission to Reform Medicaid several years ago.

This group of business professionals recognized the importance of a robust system that could provide managers with critical information on a timely basis.

Legislators supported this large expenditure in recognition of the need for accurate, timely data on who is receiving Medicaid services and the costs associated with that care. Our current system is several decades old, and cannot effectively provide the critical information we need in a timely manner.

Ohio is the sixth largest public health care purchaser in the country. While the overwhelming majority of expenditures are legitimate, we know there is some fraud, abuse and misuse, but it is very difficult to catch using our current system. The technology exists to weed out these problems, and MITS will allow us to do that.

Legislators are focused on this program for several reasons. We want to make sure we are providing effective and efficient health care, and we want tighter controls on how the state spends your tax dollars.

Oversight comes in many forms. Committee chairmen can call witnesses to discuss programs, and individual legislators can ask for briefings or progress reports. These joint committees are an effective use of time for both legislators and agency staff even though it does mean more time in meetings.

To contact Senator Tom Niehaus call 614-466-8082, e-mail him at tniehaus@mailr.sen.state.oh.us, or write to him at the Ohio Senate, Room 143, Statehouse, Columbus, OH 43215. Please include your home telephone number and address.