“Gov. Susana Martinez’s controversial Human Services Department Secretary Sidonie Squier resigned on Thursday, sources inside the department confirmed,” according to the Santa Fe New Mexican.
Patsy Romero, COO of Easter Seals El Mirador wrote to me, “post on your blog and say thank God that this woman is out after she falsely accused innocent people of being criminal and specifically targeted individuals without any evidence to support her allegations.”
According to a member of legislature, Squier had stated to the member that she was “after Patsy and Roque.” (Roque is the CEO of the Rio Grande Behavioral Health).
See the documentary about the events in New Mexico leading up to the accusations of fraud against 15 behavioral healthcare providers here.
Obviously, I cannot comment or have an opinion, so here is the rest of the article from the Santa Fe New Mexican:
“In a state that ranks at or near the bottom of the nation in childhood hunger, poverty and unemployment, Squier has been a target of criticisms from groups that advocate for the poor, beginning with a statement in an email last year from her office that no evidence of hunger in the state exists in New Mexico.
Squier later backed off the statement, but came under fire again last year over the sudden removal of 15 behavioral health providers accused of fraud and their replacement with Arizona companies. The Human Services Department’s suspicions have yet to be proven. See my blog: “Because of PCG Audit, New Mexico Freezes Mental Health Services!”
Democrats in the New Mexico Senate this year targeted Squier with a “no confidence” resolution over her remarks about hunger in the state and the behavioral health shakeup.
Since then, a federal judge chided the Human Services Department when he ordered it to immediately eliminate a backlog of thousands of applications for food and health benefits from poor New Mexicans that were months overdue for processing. The department has since satisfied the court that the backlog for those most desperately in need of food assistance has been eliminated, but advocates for impoverished residents of the state say problems in other areas continue to deny eligible applicants much needed benefits.
While working to satisfy the court order over the benefit delays, Squier announced plans to restore a requirement that some food benefit recipients work, receive job training or perform community service in order to keep receiving assistance. A state district judge in Santa Fe delayed the launch of the regulatory change last week in a lawsuit that challenged whether the Human Services Department fully disclosed all the relevant details of the requirement before adopting it.
On Wednesday, the department announced it will start the hearing process for the work requirement anew, further delaying its implementation.
As election results came in Tuesday night and Martinez was swept into office for a second term by a large margin, U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-New Mexico, said she planned to apply pressure on the governor to dump Squier based on the volume of complaints Lujan Grisham’s office has received about human services in the state.
“I don’t think that Sidonie Squier is the right leadership for the Human Services Department,” Lujan Grisham told The New Mexican.”
Documentary on New Mexico Behavioral Health: Breaking Bonds: The Shutdown of New Mexico’s Behavioral Health Care Providers
I am finally back home in North Carolina from beautiful New Mexico. If you ever forget how large America is, fly across country for one day and come back. I think I ate 12 packets of Delta peanuts, and I know I spent over $8 for a hamburger at the Atlanta airport during a layover (How do they sleep at night charging that much for a hamburger?!). But…WOW!!…did I learn some eye-opening, Medicaid information.
It is without question that, recently, North Carolina providers that accept Medicaid have undergone serious, over-zealous scrutiny and audits. Even more so than normal. And, even more so, behavioral health care providers are undergoing increased scrutiny with the implementation of the Managed Care Organizations (MCOs).
But what I saw in New Mexico that has happened to 15 behavioral health care providers (BHP) in New Mexico, which served 87% of the NM Medicaid recipients, would make any American cringe.
Let me set the stage:
These BHP have been in business for a very long time without issue. OptumHealth (Optum) is one of the acting MCOs in New Mexico (NM). Analogous to our Alliance, EastPointe, or East Carolina Behavioral Health. From my understanding, sometime in January 2013, Optum contacted the NM single state entity that manages Medicaid. (In NC, the single state entity is the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Division of Medical Assistance (DMA); in NM, it is Human Services Department (HSD)). Optum alleged that 15 BHP were committing abhorrent billing practices.
According to the representative for HSD, HSD decided to contract with Public Consulting Group (PCG) to conduct an independent audit to determine whether Optim’s allegations had merit. So, in Jan or Feb. 2013, HSD contracted with PCG to conduct the independent audit on the 15 BHP. The PCG Executive Summary of its audit was published in February 2013.
You can find the entire Executive Summary here.
PCG found, in pertinent part:
I know, hard to read. Anyway, PCG found over $36 million in overpayments to these 15 providers.
At first blush, one would think, “Holy cow! These providers were overpaid $36 million!” But hold on…how many providers here in NC have undergone a PCG audit, only to find that PCG’s audit was erroneous, the extrapolation was inflated, and many noncompliance claims were actually compliant?
See NC Medicaid Extrapolation Audits: How Does $100 Become $100,000? Check for Clusters! Or Overinclusive NC Medicaid Recoupments and the Provider “Without Fault” Defense. Or NC Medicaid RACs Paid to Find Errors By Providers, No Incentive to Find Errors By DMA. Or The Exaggeration of the Tentative Notice of Overpayments.
The reality is that most PCG audits (at least the ones I have reviewed) are erroneous.
At the end of the day, the provider does NOT owe the over-inflated amount PCG claims. So, with the knowledge that many (all that I have seen) of PCG’s audits are erroneous, let me get back to my story.
Based on PCG’s audit, HSD determined that credible allegations of fraud existed and immediately suspended the Medicaid payments for all 15 providers.
But…get this…HSD provided zero appeal rights. The providers were unable to appeal the State’s decision to suspend the Medicaid payments. And even worse, PCG and the State refused to give the providers the data compiled by PCG that, supposedly, demonstrated the credible allegations of fraud. So the providers could not even defend themselves against the audit results because the providers were not allowed to see the audit results. To this day, the providers do not know what documents PCG audited or what the purported noncompliance is.
This would be similar to me accusing you of embezzling money from my company, but never showing you what proof I have. Firing you for embezzlement and calling the police. The police arresting you based on my accusation, but you never get a day in court or even the proof to defend yourself.
In America, really? Where is the due process?
The Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states, in pertinent part:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
I mean, come on, due process is a benchmark of our country. As American as cheeseburgers and the 4th of July…
Yet, these 15 providers in New Mexico received no due process.
During the Tuesday, September 3, 2013, New Mexico behavioral health subcommittee, Larry Heyek, the HSD Deputy General Counsel, cited the authority for HSD’s preliminary investigation as 42 C.F.R. 455.14, which states that:
“If the agency receives a complaint of Medicaid fraud or abuse from any source or identifies any questionable practices, it must conduct a preliminary investigation to determine whether there is sufficient basis to warrant a full investigation.”
Interestingly enough, the C.F.R. section preceding 455.14 requires due process.
42 CFR 455.13 states:
The Medicaid agency must have—
Yet, the State of New Mexico, based on PCG’s audit, infringed on the legal rights of all 15 providers and no provider was afforded due process of law.
So what happened to these 15 providers due to the PCG audit? Did HSD attempt a recoupment of the $36 million? Did HSD terminate the 15 providers’ Medicaid contract? A plan of correction?
HSD went to Arizona, hired 3-5 (not sure on the number) large, health care providers to take over the 15 providers’ companies. Literally, these Arizona companies have gone to the 15 providers’ buildings and have either purchased the buildings or leased the buildings and the 15 providers no longer exist (realistically…legally, the companies still exist). Staff was fired. Medicaid recipients were not serviced.
Talk about a hostile takeover!!!
But, here is the kicker….
HSD, supposedly, hired PCG to conduct an independent audit on the 15 providers. Yet, Thomas Aldrich, a manager at PCG, testified at the NM subcommittee’s meeting that Mr. Aldrich (PRIOR to conducting the “independent” audit) flew with Secretary Sidonie Squier, and others, to Arizona to vet health care providers to take over the 15 NM providers.
PRIOR to the audit!!!!
Secretary Squier did not know whether Optum’s allegations of abhorrent billing practices had merit. Yet, she and Mr. Aldrich flew to Arizona, on NM Medicaid dollars, and sought out Arizona companies that could take over the 15 NM providers. BEFORE any proof of truly abhorrent billing.
BEFORE the providers could defend themselves.
Imagine the State of North Carolina coming and taking over your company. Imagine you have no due process. Imagine you don’t even understand the charges with which the State is charging you.
Now imagine that the scenario is reality…in New Mexico.
Oh, BTW, Thomas Aldrich, the manager at PCG, testified in front of the NM behavioral health committee that he is in charge of two major projects: (1) the New Mexico audit; and (2) the North Carolina audits.