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FSSA disclosure, transparency, evaluation must be priorities

Riecken

Recent articles in the newspapers have correctly pointed to the failure of both the state and IBM Corp. to properly provide life-sustaining medical, nutritional and family assistance services to Indiana’s poorest families, persons with disabilities and senior citizens. The reports highlight the troubling fact that the final price tag of this botched privatization effort is unknown.

Unfortunately, both the administration and IBM have resorted to a political blame game. If the finger-pointing continues, much like that between the executives of BP and the federal government over the disastrous oil spill threatening the Gulf of Mexico, there is little chance to fully resolve this mess.

The time has long passed for the Daniels administration to institute a program of quality, humane and fiscally sound management for the Medicaid, food stamp and family assistance programs for which it is legally responsible.

We must demand to know how much this new system is costing taxpayers compared with the costs of the prehybrid/modernization models. Why can’t the Ways and Means Committee, which is charged with forming the state’s biennial budget, obtain from the Family and Social Services Administration a full accounting of the costs associated with the services provided by the agency despite repeated requests?

What is certain is that Hoosiers deserve better. Hoosier taxpayers deserve a full accounting of how much money we’ve lost in this deal, and struggling families, senior citizens and people with disabilities deserve a fairer and more responsive system.

FSSA Secretary Anne Murphy recently presented a report to the State Budget Committee. We should be pleased that Murphy indicated there are some areas of improvement. The improved outcomes are a credit to the secretary. Nonetheless, we should be concerned with the issues that were not addressed in the report. The issues of lasting improvement in the system and final cost to the taxpayer have yet to be discussed.

Murphy reported that fewer people are filing appeals for mistakes and wrong decisions. But it is not clear why the appeals have decreased. Is it because the system is better, or have people simply given up fighting the system? Could it be that applicants are being encouraged to refile for services instead of appealing wrong decisions? The information I have received from citizens indicates it is a little of each.

I understand technology remains an issue because the state’s old computer system can’t communicate with the new IBM system. Like many Hoosiers, I do not understand why such issues were not addressed when Gov. Mitch Daniels fired IBM last fall.

I have authored and advocated two bills to provide meaningful evaluation and oversight of Medicaid, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and food stamps. The problems described in the press didn’t occur overnight. Those problems must be thoroughly investigated and the best solutions identified and implemented.

While I am glad to see the administration is going to fight IBM’s attempt to further gouge Hoosier taxpayers, the legal back-and-forth of IBM and the Daniels administration should not overshadow the human side of this story: helping the neediest Hoosiers before they are harmed by the arbitrary denial of services for which they are qualified. We should never have another case like that of the heart patient who waited months for his Medicaid certification, only to receive approval a week after his death.

Hoosiers deserve complete disclosure of how the new system will be improved for those in need and what the final cost will be. Nothing less is acceptable.

Rep. Gail Riecken is a Democratic state representative of District 77 in Evansville. She wrote this for Indiana newspapers.

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