Indulging in a Flight of Fancy

July 2nd, 2014 · 1 Comment · journalism, open government, state government

By Arthur Alpert

It isn’t a smoking gun, but the Santa Fe New Mexican’s story last Saturday sure was an eye-opener.

Here’s the headline:

Records: N.M. paid Arizona firm ahead of provider shake-up

And here are reporter Patrick Malone’s first two paragraphs:

“Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration shook up the state’s mental health system last June when it said an audit had revealed 15 nonprofit groups that provided treatment to the poor had overbilled Medicaid by as much as $36 million. The groups were stripped of their contracts, and a handful of companies from Arizona were brought in to replace them.

“But months before the audit was even complete, the Martinez administration was already paying at least one of the Arizona companies for salaries, travel and legal fees, state records show. At least one payment to the company, Agave Health Inc., was made before the audit had even begun, according to the records.”

Before the audit had begun?

The New Mexican asked Matt Kennicott, spokesman for the Human Services Department, which ordered the audit, for comment and he defended the early payments.

“Bottom line is that the transitional agencies were prepping in case a transition did need to occur,” Kennicott said.

Malone updated his story Monday, June 30, noting some Arizona firms got “hefty” payments.

“In one example,” he wrote, “invoices submitted to the state for reimbursement by the Arizona providers show that the executive and management team of one company, Open Skies Healthcare, routinely billed the state $250 an hour to $300 an hour for wait times at airports and extremely long workdays.”

He also talked to some Democratic legislators who want a probe.

So there you have my brief summary of an extraordinary new development in the long-running behavioral health audit story.

Which I tell you for one reason – the Albuquerque Journal hasn’t. Through Wednesday, July 2, there’s been not one word from the state’s largest daily.

Frankly, I’m a bit surprised. Up to now, the Journal has followed audit story developments. Admittedly, the operative word is “followed;” the editors have dutifully recapped the work of the news outfits that pursued it vigorously – the New Mexican,, the Las Cruces Sun-News and KUNM-FM – nothing more.

So what happens now? I don’t know, but I guess the Journal will get around to the topic. The editors will, if precedent is any guide, finesse it, minimizing where possible and affording the Governor every opportunity to knock it down.

While we wait to see if I’m a good prognosticator, shall we indulge in a flight of fancy? Let’s imagine how a journalistic enterprise – as opposed to a political entity pretending to be in the news business – would treat the story.

First, the editors would summon a reporter (I nominate Mike Gallagher or Colleen Heild or both) and say:

“Please find out who in our state government decided to make contact with one or more Arizona firms? Or did the Arizona folks come calling here? In either case, who represented the Arizona firms and who spoke for us?

“They went out of state before the audit. Why? Who decided that?

“Once they had the audit, why not talk to the New Mexico providers to see if they could explain their failings or simply straighten up and fly right?

“And if it’s true New Mexico is paying the Arizona companies lots more than we did homegrown agencies, why?

“Oh, and that reminds me, burrow into the politics. In both states, the providers had to have political buddies. Who, exactly?

“You see, guys, I still don’t get what was behind the whole episode. Somehow I doubt this administration was hell-bent to improve delivery of behavioral health services. No, I could be wrong but something here doesn’t compute.

“Whatever you find, let’s lay out the whole story, letting political chips fall where they may? Wouldn’t that be fun?”

Letting political chips fall where they may at the Journal?

I do have a good imagination.

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One Comment so far ↓

  • Bill Tiwald

    Typical of the Albuquerque Urinal, the Martinez mouth piece, now silent when Martinez does wrong. I’m doing everything I can in this election cycle for Gary King and state legislators that are not of her ilk.

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