Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Butler commissioners vote to support agency's suit



By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON - Butler County commissioners on Monday voted to back a county agency's attempt to recover $4 million in federal funds it alleges the state failed to pass along - a problem that has hurt the agency and could affect taxpayers.

Fred Valerius, superintendent of the local Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, told commissioners his agency plans to join 20 other counties that are suing for reimbursement of Medicaid costs from years ago. The total owed to counties throughout Ohio is believed to exceed $80 million, Valerius said.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Cleveland, claims that state officials failed to reimburse counties in a timely manner 58 cents in federal money for every $1 of Medicaid services clients receive.

"We owe it to the people we serve, as well as the taxpayers of Butler County, to recover that money," Valerius said, noting about 2,500 clients receive services from the Butler agency.

Federal funds haven't been flowing to the counties because state officials failed to conduct required audits, Valerius said. Since Butler's last audit was completed in 1998, none of the expected reimbursements have been arriving.

As a result, the Butler agency has been forced to delay buying buses, postpone plans to open a West Chester Township office and find another funding source for the $283,000 roof replacement at the Janet Clemmons Center, Valerius said. Getting the reimbursement now is important, he said, because it would influence the amount of money the board will seek from taxpayers next year after a 1-mill tax levy expires.

Jon Allen, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services, said he couldn't address why the audits weren't done faster.

But he said his agency and the Ohio MRDD have proposed a plan for correcting longstanding issues dealing with the Medicaid reimbursement program.

Public comment is being accepted on a complex set of rule changes, which are set for a joint legislative committee hearing Sept. 8 in Columbus, he said. Those changes also need to be approved by the federal government.

Commissioner Courtney Combs said he has heard frequent complaints about the situation, leading him to believe the problems are widespread.

But, he says, state officials have "stonewalled" attempts to get answers.

"It's kind of a shame that we have to go to these lengths to get answers from the state," Combs said.

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E-mail jmorse@enquirer.com




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