State likely missed out on federal payments

HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii has potentially missed out on tens of millions of dollars in federal reimbursements from claims related to teaching Medicaid-insured special education students, according to state officials and a review of federal data.

A review of federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services data shows the state received nearly $260,000 for school-based Medicaid health services in 2016, a fraction of what most states get, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Sunday.

On average, states received $48 million in 2016, the latest year with state-by-state federal statistics available. In states with similar overall student populations — like Rhode Island, Montana, Maine and New Hampshire — each received between $26 million and $38 million in reimbursements, according to the data.

State Rep. Sylvia Luke, a Democrat who heads the House Finance Committee, said she believes Hawaii has been missing out on about $50 million to $100 million annually for years.

State Department of Education officials declined to comment on if millions of federal dollars were left on the table, saying doing so would be speculation. The reimbursement differences between the states reflect the complexity and difficulty of the Medicaid program, the department said.

“A lot of states are still trying to figure it out,” said Heidi Armstrong, interim assistant superintendent of the department’s Office of Student Support Services.

The department is taking aggressive steps to maximize reimbursements under Superintendent Christina Kishimoto, who entered the role a year ago, Armstrong said.

“We are aggressively going to seek reimbursement for every service and every eligible child that we’re able to. We are committed to doing that,” Armstrong said.

The state receives federal reimbursements for qualifying expenses by submitting billing records and ensuring federal requirements are met. The department is spending about $367 million on special education this year.

“We have to be mindful that federal funding can be unpredictable,” Armstrong said, “and that Medicaid reimbursements are supplementary funds that cannot be relied on as a guaranteed source of funding for some of our most vulnerable students.”