Passport Audit shows tax payer dollars spent on travel, food, lobbying

FRANKFORT, KY (WAVE) - A state audit of Passport Health Plan shows it spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of tax payer money on travel, food and lobbying efforts.

According to its website, Passport serves 157,000 people in 16 Kentucky counties and is funded with state and federal money. It is the state's largest contract at $793 million dollars. Passport Health Plan was created in 1997 at the state's request to control the cost of medicaid, but now there are questions, if it really working.

"We can't contract out our responsibility," said State Auditor Crit Luallen. "Our responsibility has to be back to the taxpayers."

Luallen called the spending on travel and meals "extremely excessive."

"Our recommendation is not necessarily that all of those trips shouldn't have been taken, but they need guidelines on spending," said Luallen."

The report shows between 2007-2009, staff spent $73,000 on meals. Charges include $130 at Wick's Pizza and $546 on Commander's Palace in New Orleans.

It also shows $230,000 racked up in travel expenses which includes luxury hotels and limousine service.

According to the audit Executive Vice President Shannon Turner and Associate Vice President Nici Gaines were the main offenders and both had conflicts of interest.

"I think one of the most troubling aspects of this review is the direct conflicts of interest," said Luallen. "The Executive Vice President works for UHC (university Health Car, which does business as Passport)...She also is a partner in a consulting business that has received over $354,000 form the vendor whom she manages."

The audit indicates passport has $1 million on lobbying and public relations.

"So this is basically state and federal money being used to hire lobbyists who then lobby officials for more support," said Luallen.

There are no plans to send the audit to law enforcement, however, Gov. Steve Beshear sent a statement ordering Passport to work with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to immediately address the excessive spending and lack of controls.

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