By Hillary Borrud

The Oregonian

Republican gubernatorial candidate Knute Buehler called on Gov. Kate Brown on Monday to appoint an independent lawyer to investigate why Oregon overpaid more than $74 million in Medicaid money to health care organizations.

Buehler, who is an orthopedic surgeon and state representative from Bend, also called for Brown to recoup the money and publicly release all records of her administration’s communications about the overpayments. Spokesmen for the governor did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“The effective delivery and transparent administration of providing health care to Oregonians should not be a source of partisan division,” Buehler wrote in a letter to Brown.

Buehler said he supports Medicaid and the expansion of the health insurance program for the poor under the Affordable Care Act. But Oregon’s problems administering the program have chipped away at the state’s reputation for health care innovation and undermined public trust in state government, Buehler said.

Brown recently brought in new administrators to lead the Oregon Health Authority, and those employees are still working to determine the full extent of overpayments.

The most well-understood problem involved Oregonians who were old enough to qualify for Medicare and poor enough to qualify for Medicaid. Medicare pays first and should have covered most of those patients’ costs, but instead the state signed them up for the most expensive type of Medicaid.

Oregon retrieved $10 million of those overpayments in 2016 and returned it to the federal government, and the state could be forced to return the remaining $64 million.

State officials acknowledged the problem last week when they released public records about the overpayments. A couple of hours after the records release, Brown sent out a news release in which the governor said she only recently learned of the overpayments. A spokesman for the governor said Oregon Health Authority officials withheld the information from Brown.

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