Will Block’s efforts be blocked?

Kudos to my friend, Ken Block, for his review of waste and fraud in Rhode Island’s Food Stamp and Medicaid programs. While it was important to pinpoint actual abuse, the real story of his analysis is the deficiency of state agency data to monitor and identify problems. Without such program integrity, the true recipients of benefits are masked from public scrutiny.
Of the many gaps in the oversight of these programs which his study found, outdated computers are the main culprit. Mr. Block found that there are about 400 irregularities with basic details such as recipients’ addresses, including such fictional locations as Miami, Rhode Island. State agencies are failing to communicate with each other. The Department of Health has not been telling the Department of Health and Human Services when recipients die, and so “deceased” people have continues tEven eligibility data for even qualifying for the program was  sparse.
The state is at the mercy of managed care providers who provide eligibility data. It doesn’t take a genius to see that if a provider wants to commit fraud it only needs to provide a cover story which cannot be checked by the state. In some instances the true identity of the person entering the data is not known, particularly if the person is a physician assistant entering data under a doctor’s access code. Mr. Block found that one doctor had 18,000 prescriptions attributed to him.
During his investigation, Mr. Block found little enforcement against retailers who committed food stamp fraud. In one known case, a convenience shop owner perpetrated a nearly-million dollar food stamp trafficking scheme, yet received only 6 months probation.  In contrast, an individual who committed $500,000 worth of tax invasion through his business was sentenced to 30 months in prison by the same court. Apparently, abusing the public purse for financial gain is seen as a less culpable offense!
Homeless people were found to have “cashed” the bulk of their monthly benefits at a meat counter in one transaction. It is not a quantum leap to conclude that cash is passing to the recipient who has no place to store his purchase or restaurateurs nearby the meat market are paying below market price for the resale.
Perhaps the most damming conclusion to the study is the potential number of so-called legitimate vendors who participate in the rape of the system. Shops rang up cigarette purchases as “food” which not only misrepresented a purchase but also allowed the grocery stores to avoid the payment of cigarette taxes if the owner was so inclined. Community health centers have gotten a free ride since they can charge for “encounters” as opposed to services for dental care. The centers have incentives to have clients come through the door. The cost of dental care is approximately $140 per visit—far in excess of payment which a private dental provider would receive.
It seems as though that many of the state’s residents are on “welfare,” even when the store or clinic is not on the roster! Fie!

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