Workload swells as budget stagnates for legislative auditor

John Dupont

The workload and demands for the State Office of the Legislative Auditor have increased significantly in recent years, but state lawmakers have not budged on requests to restore funds they cut from the office several years ago.

The refusal to restore the funds will continue to hamstring the office in its efforts to oversee fiscal accountability in for state government, Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera told the Press Club of Baton Rouge on Monday.

He asked the legislature to reallocate the $2 million it cut from his office's budget during the state's fiscal crisis in 2016. Despite the surplus and a more stable fiscal foundation, his office continues work with an $8 million budget for which he has operated since the cut.

The move comes when the number of Medicaid fraud cases have ballooned since Gov. John Bel Edwards issued the executive order to expand the program when he took office in 2016.

House Bill 72 by state Rep. Tony Bacala, R-Gonzales, would have given Purpera's office ability to use income data and state tax information in the audit process for the Medicaid program.

The state must foot 100 percent of the insurance costs in the Medicaid program, but eligibility remains the question.

Audits have shown families with household income of $100,000 – more than three times the poverty level – have fraudulently linked into the program, along with some as high as $300,000.

"Some have criticized me as nit-picky for wanting the state tax information, but it's part of doing my job," Purpera said.

The fraud cases come as the costs of the program are projected to increase 6.1 percent annually, he said.

The audit process for Medicaid fraud has improved over the last three years through advanced data analytics of the program. The office is also developing a program to pinpoint providers to determine if they're engaged in fraud.

Payroll tax has also been an area of concern for his office, largely because of the large number of employers who fail to pay payroll tax.

The state audits have turned focus to employers to make sure they are not defrauding on the tax.

Some employers have refused to provide data in the audit, which automatically triggers a red flag, Purpera said.

The amount for the penalty – only a maximum of $1,500 – makes it easy for employers to dodge compliance.

"Our workforce commission and state laws do not comply with legislation to hold them accountable," he said. "It's a huge problem for us."