Media Release: Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Responds to Overpayment Allegations Made by Minnesota Department of Human Services
Media Contact: Leonard Fineday (218) 760-1712
CASS LAKE, MN (August 1, 2019) – On May 1, 2019, the Minnesota Department of Human Services (“DHS”) issued a letter to the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe (the “Band”) stating that billing practices for the Band’s Opioid Treatment Program would be changed to meet requirements of federal regulations. The Band’s Opioid Treatment Program is a Medication Assisted Therapy (“MAT”) program the Band has operated since 2003. The program, which treats addictions to opioids, is funded through billing the Band submits to DHS in accordance with an agreement between the Band and DHS. The Band immediately adjusted to the new billing practices at the request of DHS.
On June 25, 2019, the Leech Lake Reservation Business Committee (“RBC”) and officials from DHS met. The outcome of this meeting was that the Band and DHS entered into a formal Tribal Consultation Agreement, which provided protocols for government-to-government relations and communication. This Agreement, entered into pursuant to Executive Order 19-24, includes a commitment from DHS to seek recommendations from the Band regarding issues of mutual concern. It further commits both the Band and DHS to good faith efforts to develop appropriate action plans prior to implementation of policy changes impacting the Band.
On July 24, 2019, DHS reached out to the Band, requesting consultation with Leech Lake officials to discuss “the policy and billing regulations regarding Medication Assisted Therapy (MAT) and to consult on next steps.” As a priority matter, and in good faith, Leech Lake officials agreed to meet and consult with DHS officials on July 31, 2019.
The July 31, 2019 meeting took place, but there was no consultation from the Band’s perspective. DHS officials unceremoniously informed the Band that the Band had received an “overpayment” in its MAT billing in an approximate amount of $13 million, going back to 2014. The Band was informed that DHS would send a formal notice to the Band seeking repayment. This was the first notification to the Band that DHS was interpreting the prior billing practice as an “overpayment.” There was no communication or consultation with the Band regarding past billing practices prior to July 31, 2019. DHS’s actions are in violation of the Tribal Consultation Agreement between the Band and DHS.
The Band steadfastly refutes these allegations that it was overpaid and asserts that any and all billing it submitted to DHS was done so in accordance with its billing agreement with DHS and pursuant to technical guidance provided by DHS.
The terms of the billing agreement and the guidance provided by DHS are what the Band relied on when submitting billing under this program. The billing practices subject to this alleged overpayment have been in place for years, and have not been flagged or noted by any audit or other review. In 2016, the Leech Lake Opioid Treatment Program was subject to a full independent audit; this audit produced no material findings regarding billing practices. Furthermore, DHS has not addressed this issue in any subsequent billing agreement between the Band and DHS.
“We know this discussion is ongoing,” said Leech Lake Chairman Faron Jackson, “but so far we do not feel DHS has meaningfully consulted with us on this issue in accordance with Executive Order 19-24. We have attempted to communicate this dissatisfaction with Governor Walz, but he has been unavailable. We hope to speak to him about our concerns soon. It is our sincere desire to continue to build a strong relationship with all state agencies and the Walz Administration as a whole. But a strong relationship requires a two-way street when it comes to communication, consultation and information sharing.”
Chairman Jackson continued: “If the technical assistance DHS provided to us regarding our billing practices was incorrect, we hope and trust they will step up to the plate and admit that this is their error, not Leech Lake’s. We will not accept responsibility or admit to culpability where we were not in the wrong.”
The Leech Lake RBC has directed the Band’s legal counsel to work with the Opioid Treatment Program staff to develop the response to these allegations, and will vigorously appeal any determination that it was improperly overpaid.