Originally created 02/21/99

Lawmakers: Millions were misspent



ATLANTA -- A trust fund, which spends more than $350 million each year to help pay for medical care for the poor, is wasting millions of those dollars, a Senate subcommittee reports.

The Indigent Care Trust Fund was discussed Friday during a hearing among senators, who reviewed several of the fund's contracts. Most of the money goes to hospitals to cover costs for uninsured patients, and for any unpaid Medicaid bills.

The lawmakers said the contracts they reviewed went to organizations that produced paper reports -- not direct patient services.

"You need to make sure you're getting something for it," Sen. Nadine Thomas, D-Atlanta, told officials at the Department of Medical Assistance, which administers the fund and Medicaid. "Buddies are being taken care of, not the people we serve."

Last month, a report by the state's Health Care Fraud Control Unit questioned the distribution of some of the funds. It found no evidence of wrongdoing, but said tens of thousands of dollars had been misspent by a Medical College of Georgia program and that use of another $400,000 in state funds should receive greater scrutiny.

In return for the money received from the fund, hospitals must spend 15 percent of the net proceeds on primary care.

Among the contracts questioned Friday:

-- $600,000 to the Medical College of Georgia for disease and case management.

-- $200,000 to the Medical Center of Central Georgia for a hospital outreach program that was never implemented, though the hospital received no payment.

-- $2 million to Automated Health Systems to support a program linking newborns to a doctor.

Sen. Robert Lamutt, R-Marietta, said the newborn program was spending more than $40 per child to make sure a family keeps a medical appointment. "Something's broken here," Mr. Lamutt said.

The Department of Medical Assistance said it spent surplus funds on contracts so it could receive federal funds. And contracts will drop from $53 million to about $31 million in fiscal 1999, DMA Commissioner William Taylor said.

The DMA also unveiled proposed policy changes to improve oversight of the trust fund which would create a simpler formula for distributing the hospital money. The plan would also install new audits of hospitals' spending and data on uninsured patients.