State officials went to great lengths to stymie an audit of the Oregon Health Authority.
That is the most troubling aspect of the audit, which state auditors were able to complete after Gov. Kate Brown appointed a new director for the beleaguered agency.
The audit report, which Secretary of State Dennis Richardson delivered Nov. 29 in a highly politicized announcement, found that the agency inadvertently misspent millions of state and federal dollars. That is not a big surprise, as news about the agency’s missteps has dribbled out for months. However, the audit also showed that the health authority is above average nationally for its handling of federal Medicaid money.
In that sense, the audit report contained both bad and good news regarding Oregon’s $9.3 billion-a-year Medicaid program. New Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen, who on Friday marked his 90th day on the job, agreed with the auditors’ recommendations and said the agency already was implementing some of them.
The report states that the health authority previously had impeded the auditors’ work but goes on to say, “OHA’s new management has been more proactive and transparent in addressing these issues.”
Audits are an integral part of cost-effective governance. Brown ousted former health authority Director Lynne Saxton this summer; but it’s disconcerting that until then, the agency aggressively interfered with what could be considered a routine audit.
That interference included hiring an outside auditing firm as an intermediary between the health authority and the state Audits Division. That seems unprecedented in state government. Allen said he canceled the outside firm’s $200,000 contract as soon as he learned about it.
According to the audit report, the health authority also had monitored what its staff was telling auditors, potentially creating a chilling effect, and ordered front-line workers to go through management instead of communicating with auditors.
“Preventing direct follow-up slowed our work, potentially limited our access, and created a bottleneck for both us and OHA. We had questions that staff could answer in minutes, but were instead required to ask managers, who sometimes provided incorrect information because they lacked the same level of familiarity as staff,” the report says. In addition, “OHA delayed answering requests and at times provided incomplete or erroneous information.”
Such interference, regardless of where it occurs in government, is outrageous. Republican Richardson, who oversees the Audits Division, and Democrat Brown, who oversees the Oregon Health Authority and other agencies in the executive branch, should have known about the problems and promptly worked together to ensure a thorough, forthright audit.
Their failure to do so creates a stain on state government.