Audit reveals possibly thousands of women denied mammograms thanks to mismanaged state program

Posted on June 14, 2010

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Potentially thousands of low-income women were deprived of mammograms because of mismanagement in a state program that provided the screenings, according to a just-released audit. The California state auditor’s report of the Every Woman Counts program revealed that data were not reported properly and funds were not well-managed. Specifically, the audit showed that the state incorrectly claimed it could not use federal funds for direct services, rather than indirect services such as outreach and training. As a result, cost-cutting measures to the program were imposed in January and roughly 41,500 women have not been screened who could have been been, the audit found. The state Department of Public Health, which runs the program, also could not provide data on how much contractors spent on specific services offered to women and did not release financial information about the program to the state Legislature as required.

“The failure to include performance requirements in millions of dollars of contracts means there is no real way to determine if state funds have been well-spent,” said Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara, a proponent of increased access to the program.

He and others called for more transparency, particularly in light of the significant cuts to the program made by the governor in January.

State health officials say revenue for the program from tobacco taxes and other sources has plummeted, while the number of women seeking services has climbed. As a result, the state placed a six-month moratorium on new enrollees through July 1 of this year and changed eligibility to exclude all women under 50. State Sen. Jenny Oropeza, D-Redondo Beach, proposed emergency legislation to restore the funding and also requested a separate audit of the program’s finances. Her bill is before the Senate’s Appropriations Committee, said Oropeza’s spokesman, Ray Sotero.

Even though cuts to the program are supposed to expire in a few weeks, Sotero said there is concern they will become permanent due to the state’s persistent fiscal problems. “We’re afraid it’s going to happen again,” he said of the cuts.

A separate audit requested by Oropeza in May showed the number of claims fell dramatically as a result of the cuts. In January 2009, 20,604 women received screening, while in January of this year only 11,473 women were served. The number fell about 50 percent in February and March as well, according to internal figures provided by the department. Dr. Mark Horton, director of the California public health department, said in a statement that officials share concern over the cuts, but that the program is not an “entitlement program” – meaning the state can afford to pay for services only if it has the money.

He said the department is working with the Legislature to provide information and cooperating fully with state and federal auditors. The department also is working to correct reporting errors, he said.

The audit released last week shows the program spent $52.1million to provide services to 350,000 women in 2009. Funding is provided from state taxes and a federal grant through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state “could do more to maximize the funding available to pay for screening services,” according to the audit. The state claimed the federal grant had to be used for certain services, such as outreach and training, but the audit said there is some leeway in deciding how to use the money. An additional $5.1million in federal funds could have been used for direct services to women instead of administrative costs, resulting in enough money to pay for the 41,500 additional screenings.

The audit shows that reducing eligibility and other cuts aren’t the solution to saving money, said Assemblywoman Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, who requested the audit with Nava. The solution is “better management, more cooperation and more transparency,” she said.

http://www.dailybreeze.com/news/ci_15289273?source=rss

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Posted in: The Anti News