LAKEWOOD – An amnesty program allowing Ocean County residents who believe they wrongly received Medicaid benefits to voluntarily withdraw from the program without fear of criminal prosecution kicked off September 12 with a public information session in the 3,208-seat Pine Belt Arena.
The meeting, initiated by the Office of the State Comptroller, was meant to explain the program to residents and urge more individuals to come forward in light of 26 Lakewood residents who were arrested over the summer for defrauding a combined $2.4 million from Medicaid and other government assistance programs.
Individuals who choose to participate will be required to repay Medicaid for the benefits they received while they were ineligible, plus pay an additional civil penalty based on the amount of wrongful Medicaid benefits they received. They must also refrain from re-joining Medicaid for a one-year period.
“Our goal is to bring those in Ocean County who were not in compliance with Medicaid eligibility requirements into compliance and to have them make full restitution of all improperly received funds,” said State Comptroller Philip James Degnan, who attended the meeting at Pine Belt Arena. “Residents of Ocean County should consider this program to be their best opportunity to come into compliance without fear of criminal prosecution.”
Individuals have until December 12 to file an application on state.nj.us/comptroller. A representative from the Medicaid Fraud Division will then follow up with them in regards to restitution and penalty information, as well as scheduling a settlement appointment.
A spokesperson for the State Comptroller’s Office said they will wait until the 90-day period is expired to release figures on how many people applied for amnesty in the program.
Medicaid Fraud Division Director Josh Lichtblau said the amnesty program is beneficial because it will return funds so that they can be used by New Jersey residents that are truly in need of assistance.
Despite the positive outlook from the State, the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office responded to apparent criticism of the amnesty program the day before it opened, issuing a statement targeted at those urging their office to pursue more prosecutions and stop amnesty.
“For all those who feel OCPO is not doing enough with regard to Lakewood Fraud prosecutions the answer is simple: We do not have access to the NJ State Comptroller Office program files. They oversee the programs application and implementation process. It is like any other victim of financial crime or fraud; we will not know they are victim of criminal activity unless they tell us. If a victim comes forward, we investigate and prosecute on their behalf.”
The OCPO also made it clear that the amnesty program came from the State Comptroller’s Office, and that they have no authority to mandate or monitor how a state agency does business.