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Audit: Nassau wrongly pays nearly $400G in benefits

Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos, seen at a

Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos, seen at a June 2013 news conference, says delays in grievance hearings for fired workers caused the county to pay out $1 million in benefits for a more than two-year period between 2010 and 2012. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau County may have wrongly paid nearly $400,000 in health benefits for a handful of current and former workers -- including one who had been dead for more than two years.

Comptroller George Maragos on Friday released an audit of his office's health insurance unit that found that clerical errors resulted in $391,109 in "unnecessary premiums" paid out between 2003 and 2013.

He said Nassau will be able to recover $101,000 of that total, but insurers are unable to reimburse the remainder due to time limits.

Maragos noted that Nassau spent $252 million last year to cover health care for roughly 50,000 people, including current employees, retirees and their dependents.

"Although no errors are acceptable, it is commendable that so few errors were found," he said in a statement, adding that his office has taken measures to lessen the likelihood that the most-common overpayment errors occur again.

The overpayments were due to factors including:

Ten former county workers who weren't eligible to retain benefits but who were paid for a period of time because their termination information wasn't updated in New York State's health care provider database.

A retiree who changed health plans, but remained enrolled by the old provider, resulting in double billing.

A current employee who incorrectly was listed twice in the state enrollment database.

A retiree who had died but continued to be covered for 21/2 years because the county didn't receive a death certificate. The case accounted for $19,940 of Nassau's premium overpayment.

None of the wrongly covered people mentioned in the audit were identified by name.

For four of them, "coverage should have been canceled prior to 2007; however, the premiums were still being paid by the county in 2012," the audit said. "And for six of the former employees, the payments were still being made in 2013."

To fix the problems, Maragos said the health insurance unit will reconcile its enrollment database with the state's more often; cancel coverage for retirees who do not respond to repeated letters to affirm their enrollment status and will consider using an outside service to assist in identifying deceased retirees.

The audit also found that Nassau's grievance process for terminated employees seeking reinstatement of health coverage "tends to languish," with average times of 2.3 years.

Maintaining coverage for 29 people who have been terminated but are still in the lengthy grievance process, "has already cost the county over $1 million," the audit states.


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