Citing a new federal study, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell argues reports of the Department of Public Welfare’s waste are greatly exaggerated. Misspent DPW money has been a key Republican talking point for years. Cutting back on waste and fraud in the department is one of the few specific examples Gov.-elect Tom Corbett gave on the campaign trail, when asked what departments he’d trim spending from. Corbett and top Republican lawmakers use Democratic Auditor General Jack Wagner’s DPW investigations as their reference point. Wagner has said over and over that DPW is misspending up to 15 percent of the money it doles out. When he released his most recent DPW report in November, Wagner said the state could save nearly $500 million a year by eliminating 10 percent of the errors in money the department provides to hospitals treating Medicaid patients. Rendell now has a report of his own. Touting a new study from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services – which is part of the federal Department of Health and Human Services – the outgoing governor claimed Pennsylvania is a national leader, with a Medicaid error rate of 4.07 percent, compared with the 8.98 percent national average.
“The rhetoric that goes on in this building doesn’t match the facts,” he said. “And the facts are given to us by the Bush Administration and the Obama Administration. And it’s just rhetoric because this is a convenient whipping boy. And nobody in this building, when it comes to DPW, cares about the facts or cares about the truth.” Rendell continued, “Politicians – and it doesn’t matter to me anymore – but politicians should stop demonizing the Department of Public Welfare. It’s done a great job. It’s staffed by professionals at every level – most of whom were here before I became governor, and most of whom will continue to be here after I’m no longer governor.” The federal report is done on a three-year cycle. Its last look at Pennsylvania, completed in 2006, found a 5.21 percent error rate. Wagner’s office hasn’t responded to calls for comment on the federal report. The study says one in six Pennsylvania residents relies on DPW for at least one service.