Borrowing trouble at Martinez shop

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By Hal Rhodes

Confusion and suspicion is about all the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez has managed to accomplish by refusing public access to a controversial audit of New Mexico behavioral health providers it paid to have conducted by a Boston-based firm.
As a consequence of that audit, which reportedly alleges that the state was overcharged by some $36 million, fully 15 behavioral health organizations under contract to the state to provide Medicaid-funded services to eligible New Mexicans were sent packing.
Reports have it that at least one and perhaps as many as three of those providers have subsequently been reinstated, but the bulk of the behavioral health services under Medicaid in New Mexico are now being contracted out to providers in Arizona.
The whole affair has prompted outrage from the health providers cut loose, the clients being served and their families and not a few state lawmakers.
All because no one has seen the audit, aside from Martinez, her Human Services Department functionaries, and the state Attorney General, who has inexplicably OK’d suppression of the audit.
Remarkably, at this writing, not even state Auditor Hector Balderas had been granted access to the documents.
Think about it: The official elected by New Mexico voters to audit public transactions has been denied access to an important publicly-financed audit that was conducted by an out-of-state firm.
On top of that, the Boston-based firm hired by New Mexico’s HSD to do its audit reportedly conducted a similar investigation on behalf of the North Carolina Health and Human Services Department, which turned out to be seriously flawed.
New Mexico taxpayers financed this audit, and it has clearly had serious public consequences: Healthcare businesses in the state have been harmed, reputations called into question, professional therapists stripped of their jobs, and the recipients of critical Medicaid-funded health services abruptly left without the professional therapists and others who handle their cases.
Martinez’s spokespeople respond to all this with pious claims about “rooting out waste, fraud and abuse.” What else can they say? When politicians get themselves into a pickle, self-serving pronouncements are rarely far behind.
Last week many of those individuals affected by the freezing of funds, layoffs and disruption in health services, along with a number of state lawmakers, held a press conference in Albuquerque where frustrations with the Martinez administration was palpable.
And why wouldn’t they be? The audit that precipitated this crisis is being guarded like a state secret, leaving the “accused” unable to confront the particulars of their accusers’ charges.
Meanwhile, a bewildered New Mexico public is forced to stand on the sidelines scratching its collective heads wondering how much, if any, fire is actually producing all this smoke.
As the parent of a schizophrenic son served by a Medicaid-funded provider was reported to have said, “…this is a fragile system, with fragile, fragile people, and we need to support them.”
An old friend, a respected therapist in private practice, recently reminded me, “The vast majority of providers are honest and serve with their clients’ best interests at heart.”
“The idea that most providers are just in it for the money,” she continued, “is a piece of disinformation that has been widely circulated by people who think social programs are a waste of money.”
If the governor and her HSD functionaries want us to believe otherwise, they should open that audit to public inspection.