VENTURA COUNTY: Failed Superagency May Have To Repay Feds
Ventura County's failed attempt to merge its social services agency and the Behavioral Health Department into a "superagency" has cost "at least $114,000," and could face the added cost of paying the federal government back for Medicare and Medi-Cal reimbursements. Larry Morris, a budget analyst with the county's administrative office, said $50,000 in legal fees and $64,000 in consulting costs were spent on the merger efforts that created the short-lived Human Services Agency. County officials scrapped the agency last month because it jeopardized nearly $15 million in Medicare and Medi-Cal reimbursements by not complying with federal guidelines. The Ventura County Star reports that Supervisor Frank Schillo "said he is angry and will request that" HSA Director Barbara Fitzgerald and BHD Director Steve Kaplan "be held accountable for the turmoil at next Tuesday's board meeting." Schillo said there might be additional costs, "including the potential loss of Medi-Cal and Medicare payments and the cost of recertifying mental health clinics."
More To Come?
Lin Koester, chief administrative officer for the county, said he would "make it less likely to lose the millions of dollars" in reimbursements by notifying the federal government "that the merger has been rescinded in an attempt to fully comply with the federal regulations" (Saillant, 1/7). The Los Angeles Times reports that the county has been "trying to persuade federal authorities not to demand reimbursement for money paid during the 259 days that the merged agency existed," which could total $344,000 to $2 million. In addition, the Times reports, these figures don't take into account "millions more in Medicaid payments that the county could be held liable" for in the wake of the botched merger attempt. County officials are citing the period from April 7 to May 19 -- when officials at the new agency violated federal requirements -- as the claiming period "most in danger." Morris said that losing the money "would almost certainly impact the services to the patients" at Ventura County Medical Center. Supervisor John Flynn "was optimistic that the county would not lose any federal money," saying, "No services were interrupted. Having to repay for reimbursements is the same thing as a penalty in my view, and I don't think they're going to do it." For its part, HCFA has not yet responded. Helen Gookin of HCFA's San Francisco branch said, "It may be that the county will have to repay Medicare and Medicaid for claims improperly submitted. But no determination has been made or is expected to be made immediately" (Johnson, Los Angeles Times, 1/8). Click here for previous coverage of this issue.