Informers: County rubber stamps benefits

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Two whistleblowers are sparking a major investigation into Social Services in Erie County. Both told the county comptroller's office that the Medicaid unit is cutting corners.

Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw says due to staffing shortages, some people might be getting taxpayer financed health benefits who don't deserve them.

"We received the information, not from one, but from two whistleblowers within Erie County government," Mychajliw said.

The comptroller believes he has the smoking gun regarding the accusations and now he wants to go into the Social Services department and uncover the ammunition.

"To automatically re-certify clients for Medicaid benefits without checking any kind of documentation - basically rubber stamping Medicaid re-certifications - without checking to see if people are eligible," Mychajliw said.

The comptroller says the whistleblowers have provided e-mails and testimony that as Medicaid recipients come up for re-certification of taxpayer funded medical benefits, their caseworkers have been instructed to qualify them automatically.

Mychajliw said, "The risk involved is that Erie County, if true, may be rubber stamping Medicaid certifications, and people may not be eligible to receive these benefits."

He has notified county and state officials he intends to audit the Medicaid unit. But county officials say: not so fast.

County Deputy Executive Richard Tobe said, "[This involves] thousands and thousands of people. The audits requesting confidential information that would be in these files, about individuals, should only be done, seriously, when there is good reason to do so."

Tobe says he needs some clarification on what Mychajliw is looking for and says some of the information the auditors are seeking they are not entitled to.

The Department of Social Services is also covered by a number of confidentiality laws. But are county workers taking short cuts?

"We are looking into that now, but I have been told that we are in complete compliance with state policy, and the state is aware of the way we do it, and it is 100 percent compliant," Tobe said.

Mychajliw says he is sending a team of auditors to the Department of Social Services to start auditing the Medicaid unit Thursday morning. The comptroller's office will meet with other officials before auditors go in to set ground rules.

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