U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann put in a rare appearance at the State Capitol Monday to join the growing bipartisan chorus calling for closer scrutiny of the state's Medicaid accounting.

Minnesota is under federal investigation for allegedly inflating health care premiums for low-income recipients of the federal health-insurance program. State legislators from both parties are calling for independent third-party auditors to review Medicaid's recordkeeping. Bachmann said she plans to introduce similar legislation at the federal level.

"It's not a partisan issue," said Bachmann. "We, as lawmakers, have an obligation to ensure that Minnesota's payment and oversight practices are both accountable and transparent."

The state's Medicaid books have never been audited, Bachmann said, and "this lack of oversight creates a climate of complacency." She said she was concerned about reports of "massive reserves" that have been accumulated by the four HMOs that manage Minnesota's health Medicaid program.

She said she has no reason to believe the state or its HMOs are misusing Medicaid funds.

But without an audit, she said, there's no way to know what is happening to the billions of dollars that are supposed to be flowing to health care for millions of low-income Americans.

Right now, Minnesota's Medicaid program operates like a "black box, where money flows in one side and out the other, but you can't see what's happening in between," said state Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, who introduced a Medicaid audit bill last week. His bill, he said, would turn that black box into "a glass tube."

Nienow estimates it would cost about $700,000 for a forensic accounting firm to comb through the state's books in search of overpayments, accounting errors or other factors that cost taxpayers money.

A state House hearing last week revealed that the Medical Assistance program -- Minnesota's version of Medicaid -- is under federal investigation for allegedly manipulating payment data to improperly claim extra federal matching funds.

Medical Assistance is run by nonprofit HMOs that handle most of the health care for the state's neediest residents.

Jennifer Brooks • 651-925-5049