Chafee: Fraud found in RI assistance programs

Chafee says waste and fraud in RI Medicaid and food stamps programs, but won't release details

Associated Press

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- Gov. Lincoln Chafee's administration is reviewing a report that found waste and fraud in Rhode Island's Medicaid and food stamp programs but is withholding the report from the public because it could prompt a criminal investigation, the independent governor said Monday.

He said it was premature to release the report, which was conducted by former gubernatorial candidate Ken Block, and that his administration will take action to ensure the integrity of the two programs. Chafee said no criminal investigations are under way, but any evidence of criminal misconduct would be handed over to authorities.

The report is now under review by department heads and staffers who regularly review Medicaid and food stamp compliance, Chafee told reporters Monday.

"You don't want to jeopardize an investigation," he said, adding that his plan is "if there's any abuse, get law enforcement involved and prosecute it."

Chafee told WJAR-TV last week that he doesn't intend to release the report, which was put together for free by Simpatico Software System, of which Block is the president. The former Moderate Party candidate would not comment on the details of the report, saying his contract prohibits him from releasing the findings.

Simpatico was asked by the state to "conduct a systematic waste and fraud analysis across all Department of Health and Human Services spending programs," according to a Feb. 2012 statement posted on the company's website.

It's not surprising to find cases of apparent fraud or waste in large federally funded programs that serve thousands of people, Chafee said. But he said residents can be assured he would do what is necessary to strengthen safeguards to prevent abuse.

"Anytime you have a big program... there's always some abuse," he said.

The leader of the Rhode Island State Police, Col. Steven O'Donnell, declined to comment and referred questions about the report to the governor's office.

Rhode Island had the third highest "payment error rate" for food stamps in the nation for Fiscal Year 2011, according to federal statistics. The payment error rate documents improperly approved eligibility and benefits. Rhode Island's error rate for 2012 was 7.69 percent, compared to a national average of 3.32 percent.

More than 175,000 Rhode Islanders receive food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Eligibility for the federally funded program is based on household income.

Some 225,000 Rhode Island residents were enrolled in Medicaid in 2009, the latest year for which numbers were available on the program's website. The federal government spent $1.18 billion on enrollees that year while the state contributed $690 million.

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