Not again: more troubles emerge from ODJFS

Because Ohio Medicaid Director Barbara Edwards has doubts about a federal program that pays school districts for services they provide to needy students, Ohio's schools have lost some $200 million that would have been available through the Medicaid Administrative Claiming program. We have ongoing doubts about the Ohio Department of Family and Job Services in which the Medicaid office is located.
Perhaps state executives like Edwards -- and others past and present at ODJFS -- have such cushy jobs in Columbus that they can't personally envision what it's like to be in need. But when 225 school districts have been pleading to no avail for the funds that the MAC program would provide, we have to wonder whether it's time for those with the fat salaries and fat benefit packages to experience first-hand what being poor and jobless is like.
The MAC program, which Edwards chose to reject, helps school districts by reimbursing them for the funds they spend on administrative functions, such as signing children up for Healthy Start or developing the means to coordinate and deliver health care services to needy students and their families.
Medicaid also pays for physical exams, speech therapy, immunizations and other direct medical services that schools provide to children from poor families through a program called the Community Alternative Funding System, or CAFS.
Both federal programs are run by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
But because the federal General Accounting Office had found that Michigan school officials had improperly billed the MAC program and apparently had accepted gratuities from their consultant, Edwards arbitrarily decided that Ohio should not participate.
Ohio's not Michigan: We don't understand what Michigan's problems have to do with Ohio, unless those senior to Edwards at ODJFS were afraid that the intense scrutiny the agency had been under relative to wrongfully withholding millions of dollars in child support payments would attract more attention to the state's handling of the MAC program.
We would suggest that the answer is not refusing to participate but rather competent management.
Last week, after inquiries from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Edwards decided that maybe she could file MAC & quot;placeholder & quot; claims, after all, thus holding the school districts' places in the "line" for the money. As a result, the 225 school districts stand to receive $9.8 million for services provided between April and June 1999. But Edwards' failure to act sooner meant that on March 31, the 225 districts lost $11.2 million in MAC reimbursement for the three months, January to March 1999.
Inasmuch as the Taft administration and the Republican-controlled General Assembly have complained mightily about school funding, we have to wonder what has been gained by not permitting the districts with the largest numbers of poor students to go after federal dollars.
The welfare of the state's children must be the priority, not ideological and political expediency.

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