Another state audit has thrown Louisiana’s system of overseeing its Medicaid program into doubt.

The problem with this and other issues highlighted by these audits goes beyond the waste and abuse they invite – though that is a legitimate concern. They also give fuel to those who lob partisan attacks against the Medicaid system in general and particularly the recent expansion of it, a development that is saving lives.

The audit report released earlier this week says that millions of dollars from 2012 through 2017 were held out of the Medicaid Fraud Fund, which is supposed to identify and fight potentially fraudulent claims.

That is a failure that goes to the heart of the program’s ability to make sure the people who are using it are eligible to do so and that those who aren’t are found out and punished.

Responding to the audit, health officials say they have implemented changes that should clear up the problems.

"We have been correcting a problem that was inherited from the previous administration, and that was brought to our attention by the auditor," said Cindy Rives, chief financial officer for the health department.

That is a good development in that it should correct a glaring deficiency. But the fact that this went on for years erodes public confidence in the state’s ability to oversee this crucial program.

The Medicaid program, especially as it is configured now to insure so many members of the working poor, is a lifeline for people who have no other options for health insurance.

It makes preventive care available to those who otherwise would be left to seek treatment after dangerous or deadly conditions arise.

The numbers say that thousands of people are being helped already, and the program just expanded in 2016, allowing hundreds of thousands more people more to become eligible. In that time, 400 women on Medicaid have been diagnosed with breast cancer and begun treatment; 8,000 have had precancerous colon polyps removed; and 57,000 people are receiving mental-health care.

While the program is doing good works, though, it is essential that it be policed by systems and people who are intent on maintaining its integrity. Failing to do so makes Medicaid more vulnerable to political attacks on the overall program.

Because it is improving and saving lives, it must be protected from fraud and waste. Louisianans must hope that the changes put into effect after the time period studied in the audit will make that happen.

 

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