HELENA — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said he doesn’t think a disagreement with legislative auditors over the way the state determines eligibility for Medicaid coverage will end up impacting the state’s bond rating and the ability to finance infrastructure work.
Bullock raised the issue earlier this month after auditors questioned the eligibility of up to half of the 270,000 Montanans enrolled in Medicaid.
If that assessment is accurate, it would mean the state could have to repay $135 million to the federal government. In a memo to the governor’s office, auditors said the likelihood of the federal government seeking repayment is “more than remote,” but they said they needed to report that potential liability to credit agencies as the state looks to sell bonds to pay for road, bridge, water and sewer, and building projects.
Bullock told the Independent Record editorial board on Tuesday that he’s had “generally positive” conversations with credit rating agencies and said the audit “wouldn’t impact or impair our overall credit rating, which we’ve worked really hard to maintain,” Lee Newspapers of Montana reported.
A better credit rating means lower interest rates on bonds.
Legislative auditors have not released their report and do not discuss audits until they’re presented to the Legislative Audit Committee. The state health department has said it is following federal regulations in determining eligibility.
The state will issue its annual financial report in February. While auditors plan to include that potential $135 million liability, Bullock said his budget office will not list it.
“I can’t see our accounting division requiring our accountants to flag a liability that by no means from our perspective meets the remote possibility of occurring,” Bullock said. “ … I don’t foresee ever accepting the notion that 50% of the people on Medicaid are ineligible because I think by even the Legislative Audit Division’s own standards, they recognize that money is not going to be clawed back and it’s a fairly absurd proposition.”
The state had hoped to sell $80 million in bonds in November. Bullock said the state expects to sell the bonds in time to finance work this summer.
The projects include the long awaited renovation of Romney Hall at Montana State University in Bozeman.
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