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Release the audit

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By Optic Editorial Board

If you’ve watched television newscasts or picked up a newspaper over the last month, then chances are you know about the audit commissioned by the Human Services Department.

Boston-based auditors looked into the billing practices of 15 New Mexico behavioral health programs, and they reportedly found an estimated $36 million in improper payments. Allegations of fake billing, potential shell companies and CEO’s improperly getting rich off Medicaid funds are flying.

The Human Services Department ran to the media with the findings and cut off Medicaid funding to those behavioral health providers.

But despite the serious allegations being made and the extraordinary measure of cutting off payments to those companies — a move that may very well end up driving them out of business — the Human Services Department and the Attorney General’s Office are refusing to release the audit report, opting instead to keep it shrouded in secrecy. And that, in our view, is unacceptable.

In an op ed piece published in the Sunday Albuquerque Journal, Sidonie Squier, secretary of the Human Services Department, states that the audit has been turned over to the attorney general, the U.S. attorney and the FBI. She adds that her department believes the public has a right to see the audit report “but we also respect the need for law enforcement to conclude their investigations and make final prosecutorial decisions.”

According to Squier, the Attorney General’s Office is arguing that releasing the audit would jeopardize its investigation, and as a result, HSD was even refusing to turn over the document to the state auditor, even after he went to a judge and obtained a court order.

Attempting to keep the audit report away from the state Auditor’s Office reeks of politics. Late last week, HSD, the Attorney General’s Office, and state Auditor Hector Balderas reached an agreement where HSD would turn over the audit to Balderas, but Balderas would not be allowed to release it publicly.

That, in our view, is not enough.

If there was wrongdoing here, those involved should be held accountable.

But it seems only fair that those 15 companies should know what, exactly, they are being accused of. The AG’s office contends that releasing the audit to the public will harm its investigation. Perhaps the attorney general is also concerned about the public pressure for results that may come once taxpayers know what is in the audit report. After all, Gary King’s track record in this area has been a little spotty.

Release the audit report to the public so that taxpayers can decide for themselves how credible the evidence against these 15 behavioral health providers is.