Sunshine group sues for health audit

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A sunshine group filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking release of the audit used by a state agency to find “credible allegations of fraud” against 15 health providers in New Mexico.

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (FOG) filed its lawsuit against the Human Services Department (HSD) and Attorney General’s Office in the First Judicial District Court in Santa Fe.

“The audit report was significant enough to cause HSD to suspend Medicaid payments to 15 behavioral health providers in New Mexico,” Gregory P. Williams, an officer of FOG, said in a news release. “The report is too important to the citizens of New Mexico to be kept from public view, and in our view New Mexico law does not permit it to be withheld.”

Last month, New Mexico In Depth and the Las Cruces Sun-News filed a lawsuit seeking release of the audit in the Third Judicial District Court in Las Cruces. The news organizations are waiting for the case to be assigned to a new judge after District Judge James T. Martin recused himself.

HSD has refused to release most of the audit in response to records requests from both news organizations and FOG, citing the exemption to the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act. The exemption 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 for each of the 15 providers.

Williams said if the audit is “protected as a law enforcement record, the burden is on the attorney general to show how its release would jeopardize the investigation.”

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