Bill Britt: An $81 million error is more than a mistake

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

Alabama Political Reporter was the first to report that it was a $81 million dollar mistake at Alabama’s Medicaid Agency that led to the Governor declaring proration on Friday.

While no one seemed to doubt proration was coming,  most politicos and policy wonks were caught offguard with it coming so soon.

This so-called mistake was unknown to the Legislators that oversee the state budget until Monday or Tuesday of last week when the Alabama Department of Finance notified Senator Artur Orr and Rep. Jim Barton. The question arises as to what did Dr. Bob Mullins, director of the Medicaid Agency and Dr. Marquita Davis, Director of Finance, know and when did they know it?

A $81 million dollar mistake, is not an oops error. This euphemistically called mistake has triggered a statewide cut in agencies to the tune of over 20 percent. This is not a small accounting error or a harmless blunder. That this type of financial malfeasance is called a “mistake” is a fantasy covering a lie. Most of us who watch government understand that there are a panoply of governmental accounting rules that would land a private sector CEO and CFO in jail. But even by the standards of mythical government accounting this is a financial debacle that borders on the criminal.

It is reprehensible that an agency is so loosely administered that these types of errors are not caught early. Where were Doctors Mullins and Davis when these mistakes were occurring? Everyone seems to acknowledge that Mullins and Davis are excellent people, but neither has a substantial background in finance nor a background in overseeing such enormous bureaucratic structures as state finance and Medicaid. But as in life someone must be accountable, someone must say, “The buck stops here.”

What is perhaps more eery and devilish is that these types of errors are most often covered up, swept aside and eventually no one is held accountable. These are taxpayer funds, this is not Monopoly money it is the peoples’ hard earned dollars. In the real world if an accountant, a department head or anyone with oversight of a company budget made such an error there would be hell to pay and firings would ensue and perhaps even a criminal investigation.

Let me be abundantly clear that there is no evidence of malice aforethought, perhaps it was best expressed by Rep. Barton, who said of the Medicaid Agency, “I am of the opinion that they have a real bad combination of incompetence and arrogance.”

Barton said that last year he and others looked into placing Medicaid under a managed care company. Barton said that these companies had said they could save the state at least $100 million a year if allowed to administer the plan.

In the middle of vetting companies for managing Medicaid, the state bureaucrats that were managing Medicaid at a loss, suddenly found away to save the system $100 million internally. At this point the idea of a having a private entity administer Medicaid was abandon. As a result of the failure that has now occurred, we are reminded of Ronald Reagan saying when negotiating with the communist regime, “Trust but verify.”  Most bureaucrats are very much like those who administered the communist state, they are the elite, lifetime employees of a state-run  apparatus, who are accountable only to other elites. These are people who are totally immersed and dependent on the labyrinth of government bureaucracy and its excessively complicated administrative procedure. They have one goal that is to protect their jobs from elected officials and the taxpayers. If a $81 million mistake will keep the money flowing into their departments, then mistakes will be made.

Someone must be held accountable. Just as this would be inexcusable in the private sector so it should be in government.

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