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Tempers Flare As Fallout Over Medicaid Audit Continues

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The state auditor and the secretary for Health and Human Services Department both spoke Tuesday to a legislative subcommittee one week after a report questioned how hundreds of millions in health care tax money was spent, the political tension just keeps getting thicker.

Health and Human Services Secretary Carmen Hooker-Odom stood firm before lawmakers defending her department. She picked apart the state audit that questions more than $400 million in Medicaid payments to hospitals. Odom referred to the findings as old news that her team had already found and fixed. She also cited an auditor's report that referenced the same program in 1997.

"If only the auditor had indeed followed up that subsequent year that he said he would in that letter, we probably wouldn't be standing here today," Odom said.

Odom concluded by offering to work for a positive outcome. State Auditor Ralph Campbell came back with a dry, yet terse response.

"Let me one, thank the secretary for her magnanimous gesture for working together as I pull the daggers and arrows out of my back from the beginning part of that presentation," he said.

Lawmakers also chimed in during the meetting. Committee chair Debbie Clary called it a spitting contest while Rep. Robert Grady, R-Onslow, used an analogy to show his frustration with the trading of blame.

"Sometimes when you get caught speeding, you need to tell the patrolman I'm sorry I did it and I won't do it again, and I've worked to change it and not tell him he should have been out catching somebody else the past year," he said.

Whoever catches the most blame, the audit stirs controversy for candidates in an election year.

"We all have a tough enough job as we get ready for the November elections, and I certainly hope it's not going to be political tension," Campbell said.

GOP gubernatorial candidates said Gov. Mike Easley is ultimately to blame because it is his administration. Easley argues the problems started long before he or Odom got into office. Campbell and Odom will speak to lawmakers again on Wednesday.


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