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DHHR response coming in McGraw controversy

By John O'Brien | May 30, 2007

CHARLESTON, W. Va. - Saying a draft has already been written, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources on Wednesday said the agency will soon respond to a letter from the federal Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services.

"We are going to respond and I have seen a draft," spokesman John Law said. "It has not sent out yet, but it will be soon -- next week."

The DHHR is being questioned by the CMS over the handling of a $10 million settlement between Attorney General Darrell McGraw and Purdue Pharma, the maker of prescription drug OxyContin. McGraw claimed the drug's addiction capabilities put a strain on the state's Medicaid budget, but never handed the money to the DHHR or Legislature, preventing the CMS from seizing its share of it.

The CMS wrote the state's Department of Health and Human Resources May 15, asking where its percentage of the $10 million settlement is. The CMS provides 73 cents of every dollar the state spends on Medicaid.

"Anytime you get a letter from CMS, you pay a lot of attention," Law said. "When they are providing a 3-to-1 match on Medicaid money, you provide them with a lot of attention."

Law added that these types of letters have been received by the DHHR before.

"These letters, I don't want to say they are sent all the time because that would be misleading, but this is how CMS tends to deal with an overage or what they see as a mistake in Medicaid payments," Law said.

"So yes, we've had these letters before. When we owe them money, we don't send a check -- they withhold future payments."

That withholding troubles the state's Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse group, which said Tuesday that McGraw's actions are jeopardizing Medicaid coverage for poor and disabled individuals.

Law said the response will come from the DHHR alone, though he isn't sure what other offices were contacted to form the answer.

"It will be a response from the DHHR. As to whose help or who we talked to or enlisted, I don't know," Law said. "You have to go to several different people to get the information, but the response will be totally from the DHHR."

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