Audit cites financial flaws at Public Health

The state’s Public Health Division has a range of problems in its financial controls, an independent audit has found.

A December letter from auditors to the state Department of Community Health listed flaws in the financial oversight of bank statements, checks, cash receipts, expenditures and invoices at Public Health.

That unit, with its $600 million budget and more than 1,000 employees, moved from another agency to Community Health in July 2009. That switch itself led to financial documentation problems, noted the audit by Metcalf Davis and Mauldin & Jenkins.

“During that transition, there was a lot going on,’’ said Tom Wade, a deputy director of Public Health, in an interview Wednesday. “The issues have to do with that transition.’’ The state agency that formerly ran Public Health, he said, “had a different way of doing things.’’

State officials said that they are correcting the financial problems. “We’re going to address each one of them,’’ said Scott Frederking, budget director for Community Health, the state’s main health agency. “We’re going to fix it so things are operating more effectively.’’

The auditors noted that after the Public Health transfer, vendors sent invoices to wrong addresses, and some invoices weren’t received by agency officials in a timely manner. “This resulted in late fees being assessed,’’ the audit said.

The findings were part of the annual Community Health audit, which ultimately signed off on the agency’s financial statements.

Frederking also said the department made the independent auditors aware of the state’s apparent failure to collect at least  $12 million in vaccine payments from three insurers that cover Georgia children in government health programs.

Georgia Health News reported in November that a state spreadsheet showed Peach State Health Plan owed $6.5 million, WellCare $5.1 million, and Amerigroup $500,000. According to state e-mails, that total of $12 million had not been paid to the state Division of Public Health as of mid-September 2010.

State officials, in e-mails as recent as Oct. 13, raised questions on whether invoices  had even been sent to the companies.

“It appears that the [companies] may owe us $12 million,’’ Wade said Wednesday. The state is still investigating the matter.

A state commission has recommended that Public Health become a stand-alone agency for greater visibility and accountability, along with other reasons.  The public health system in Georgia has seen its state funds cut recently – including in the proposed fiscal 2012 budget – and it lags behind  other Southeastern states in per capita spending.

The audit also found inadequate documentation of eligibility for some Medicaid recipients. Community Health contracts with the Division of Family and Children Services to enroll people in Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor and disabled.

The auditors noted problems in payments to hospice providers and in the state’s operation of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, responsible for administering WIC, cited deficiencies in a fiscal 2008 review of the Georgia program. “We’re in the process of working with the USDA . . . formulating our responses and corrective action,’’ said Miriam Bell, a deputy Public Health director.

Community Health officials said they would provide a report to the governor, legislators and the agency’s board in February on the state’s plan to fix the financial problems.