Legislative Auditor Won't Get Access To Tax Data For Needs-Based Programs

May 28, 2019
Originally published on May 28, 2019 8:13 am

A party line vote killed a bill Monday that would have made certain individuals income tax data available to the state’s legislative auditor. 

The office provides oversight of state agencies, like the Department of Health - verifying recipients meet income requirements for needs-based programs.

Recent reports from the auditor have suggested the health department is spending money on people who don’t qualify for certain services.

Democrats oppose giving the auditor income tax data, suggesting it would single out low-income residents, while Republicans say it could save the state money.

“Truly what’s is in my heart is to make sure we spend the taxpayer dollar properly,” Representative Tony Bacala (R-Praireville), the bill's author, told members of the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs committee.

The legislation would have targeted programs such as Medicaid, to make sure recipients aren’t making too much money to qualify.

“If you don’t need to be in the program, let’s make sure you’re not," explained Bacala, "so we can better serve the people who do need to be in the program.”

An audit released last year suggested the Department of Health may have spent as much as $85 million on health care expenses for recipients who made too much money to receive the service.

Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera says his office is currently able to verify eligibility by checking wage data from the Louisiana Workforce Commission, but he says that doesn’t provide the full picture of someone’s income.

“We need the tax records so we can look at the other portion of information to determine complete eligibility," explained Purpera.

Opponents argued the bill amounted to overreach and pointed to the Department of Health’s new system of verifying income, which so far this year has resulted in warning letters being sent to more than 50,000 Medicaid recipients.

Senator Troy Carter (D-New Orleans) argued dollars being misspent on individuals is a drop in the bucket compared to the financial abuse from health care providers.

“It’s sexier to go after poor people than it is to go after corporations,” said Carter.

Representative Bacala pushed a similar effort last year, which failed in the same committee.

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