McGraw's mess

by The West Virginia Record |
May 25, 2007, 4:00pm

But a week after the U.S. government called on West Virginia, demanding an explanation as to why its elected leaders were so willfully diverting federal Medicaid funds to pay for their own favorite political projects, those leaders kept diverting.

Attorney General Darrell McGraw gift-wrapped $75,000 this time, showering cash on a "transitional home" in Charleston for recovering drug addicts and alcoholics. Surely it came with a framed photograph of their generous benefactor for the family room wall.

That's good for him and them. But not for the rest of us, because worthy cause or not, that money, intercepted from a $10 million state Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) lawsuit settlement against drug maker Purdue Pharma, wasn't McGraw's to spend.

This much has been crystal clear for some time. What haven't been are the potential ramifications of our attorney general's insubordination -- ramifications for every West Virginia taxpayer.

McGraw surely had fingers plugging his ears, but U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Director Dennis Smith finally laid it out for us on May 15.

He said Washington, which pays 73 cents of every dollar West Virginia spends on Medicaid and thus was entitled to a large share of the settlement funds McGraw "recovered" on DHHR's behalf, will simply dock us next time around.

"In making Medicaid payments to states, the Secretary is required to adjust payments to account for overpayments," Smith wrote.

That means the feds will assume the $10 million "recovered" was properly spent, funding hospitals and doctors who provide health care to our poor and elderly, not paying exorbitant legal fees to uber-rich plaintiff's attorneys, underwriting Sesame Street exhibits or seeding pharmacy schools. So they'll give us $7.3 million less, blowing a hefty hole in the state budget that will require spending cuts or tax hikes elsewhere next fiscal year.

We suppose then, when we're making hard choices thanks to their recklessness, McGraw and his co-conspirators in the state Legislature can explain precisely why Big Bird was so worth it.

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