Government transparency

News organizations want judge to review health audit

The news organizations suing to try to force the public release of an audit used by a state agency to find “credible allegations of fraud” against 15 health providers in New Mexico have asked a judge to review the audit himself.

New Mexico In Depth and the Las Cruces Sun-News state in their motion, filed Thursday, that a review of the audit by the judge assigned to the case – James T. Martin of Las Cruces – is “the only way for this court to make a proper analysis whether the disclosure is mandated.”

The New Mexico Human Services Department has refused to release most of the audit in response to records requests from both news organizations, citing an exemption to the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act that allows the withholding of certain types of law enforcement records.

The news organizations contend the law enforcement exemption doesn’t apply in this case in spite of the fact that the attorney general is investigating the audit’s findings. State agencies have released the audit’s executive summary and background, understanding and methods sections, but not the meat of the audit that details specific findings.

The Sun-News and NMID filed the lawsuit in the 3rd Judicial District Court in Las Cruces earlier this week.

If Martin grants the motion, after he privately reviews the audit, the document will be placed under seal and kept secret until the case is resolved.

HSD has used the audit to justify freezing Medicaid payments to the 15 behavioral health organizations that provide services like drug treatment and suicide counseling to an estimated 30,000 New Mexicans. That has forced several of those providers, including three that operate in Las Cruces – Southwest Counseling Center, Families and Youth, and TeamBuilders – to hand over Medicaid-funded services to Arizona providers the state brought in to fill the gap.

The Sun-News and NMID have documented the chaotic nature of the transition and disruptions in services that have resulted in Las Cruces and around the state.

The motion cites the impact the freezing of Medicaid payments has on so many New Mexicans.

“The public interest in the disclosure of the audit is overwhelming and undeniable,” it states.