Squier apologizes for email, defends probe into Medicaid fraud allegations
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By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog
SANTA FE – had a busy day Friday.
First, she issued a public apology for an email she wrote about child hunger in the state. Then, she told she’s confident the will find evidence of misspending on the part of behavioral health providers, which saw their Medicaid spending suspended in July.“I’m confident that they will,” Squier said after appearing before the , because “I know what’s in the audit.”
The state has been in the middle of a into 15 of its largest mental health providers suspected of defrauding Medicaid of $36 million. Companies based in Arizona have been hired to fill in while the attorney general’s office looks into an audit, conducted by a company based in Boston specializing in Medicaid fraud.
Many of the providers have loudly complained they can’t defend themselves without getting specifics of the audit, which was spurred after the Medicaid billing contractor for New Mexico, , said it saw financial irregularities.
“We got referrals from Optum Health and we read them and looked at them,” Squier said. “They had in (the audit) credible allegations. That doesn’t mean all 15 (providers) were knowingly involved in fraud. But we are required to give that to the attorney general to investigate.”
Critics of Squier and the administration of say the HSD could have allowed the providers to continue delivering services until the matter is resolved.
“There’s no opportunity for people to confront their accusers,” last month. “There’s been no due process. There’s been no fair hearing. There’s been nothing.”
Why not just disclose the audit?
HSD and the attorney general’s office say disclosing the details could compromise the investigation.
“We don’t want anybody, as the attorney general said, running to the shredders,” Squier said. “We’re just complying with the attorney general’s request.”
Friday’s committee meeting was the first public appearance for Squier since in the state triggered a backlash.
In the email to state administrators, Squier — a member of the — wrote, “Since there has never been and is not now any significant evidence of hunger in N.M., I would offer that the focus of the report should be on getting proper nutrition to children (and adults).” Squier went on to say the task force shouldn’t recommend the state “just expand every government food program in existence.”
Martinez quickly distanced herself from Squier.
“There’s never been a disagreement that (childhood hunger) exists,” . “I was surprised at the way it was stated because never has there ever been a disagreement as to the issues of hunger.”
“I want to address the 800-pound gorilla in the room,” Squier told committee members Friday morning. “I do agree there are hungry children in New Mexico. I’ve always thought that … My email was poorly worded … I apologize to the governor, the people in the state and to all of you.”
Squier told reporters after the hearing that her remarks were intended to focus on the question of malnutrition.
“I think that hunger is too broad of a term,” Squier said. “Part of what got me into this situation is that we’re not talking about obesity, and that’s a situation where a child is malnourished. Most people don’t talk about that … There should be no children in New Mexico that go hungry. But we also have to attack the obesity and malnourishment that is also present.”
, called on the governor to fire Squier over the email, saying, “This is just the latest example of Secretary Squier showing her utter lack of understanding of what her job requires and the people she serves.”
“That is always the governor’s decision,” Squier said. “I serve at her will … I have not been asked to step down.”
Here’s NM Watchdog video of Squier talking about the behavioral health controversy:
Contact Rob Nikolewski at and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski
Posted under Capitol Report.
Tags: Jerry Ortiz y Pino, KOAT-TV, Legislative Finance Committee, Medicaid, Michael Sanchez, New Mexico Human Services Department, New Mexico Task Force to End Hunger, New Mexico Watchdog, OptumHealth New Mexico, Sidonie Squier, Susana Martinez