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Our View: A timely alert

Secretary of State Dennis Richardson is doing what he said he would if elected: Use the auditing function of his office to keep a sharp eye on how state agencies spend public money. This week, he issued an "audit alert" warning that the Oregon Health Plan may be paying health benefits to Oregonians who are not eligible for the federal Medicaid program.

A House Democrat said the alert amounted to "grabbing headlines" before all the facts were in. The Senate Republican Office called the situation a "Medicaid fiasco," and Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli called for an investigation. Both responses are overreactions.

Medicaid covers more than 1 million Oregonians with incomes below federal eligibility guidelines. The Oregon Health Authority, which administers the system, asked federal regulators to waive eligibility renewals for three years while the state shifted from the failed Cover Oregon system to a new enrollment system. A year ago, the state resumed eligibility renewals, and has entered nearly 734,000 recipients into the new system.

Richardson says 71,000 of the remaining recipients may be ineligible, and 36,000 of them have been in the program since 2013, potentially costing hundreds of millions of state and federal tax dollars over the past three years. That's a valid concern, but it's impossible to know how many are actually ineligible until the health authority's renewals are complete.

The health authority is working to clean up the backlog, but it's appropriate for Richardson to make sure lawmakers are aware of the situation as they work on the state budget.