LINCOLN — University of Nebraska officials expressed surprise Monday at accusations that the university had illegally blocked State Auditor Mike Foley's access to information.
Foley made the charges in a recently released audit of the university's annual financial statements.
But Regent Bob Phares, chairman of the board's audit committee, said Foley struck a much different tone when he appeared before the board last month.
“He reported that the university had a clean audit, and he complimented the work of the university officials who worked with his staff during the year,” Phares said.
In the audit report, Foley faulted university officials for delays in releasing documents about the university's health insurance plan, including claims filed by university employees and by people ineligible for coverage.
Foley said the delays amounted to “an open and deliberate violation” of state law, which protects the auditor's access to documents not specifically prohibited or limited by federal or state law.
He also faulted university officials for impeding his access to documents about an investigation into an alleged theft by a university employee.
Foley said he eventually obtained the information from the Lancaster County Attorney's Office.
The audit listed both situations as “significant deficiencies,” meaning deficiencies important enough to merit attention by the regents but not as bad as a material weakness.
University officials disputed that listing. In a written response to the audit, they said neither finding belonged in an audit of the university's finances.
Information related to the insurance program was released once there was an agreement about how federally protected health information would be handled, the officials said.
“It should be noted that similar concerns about these requests were lodged by the governor, state Department of Administrative Services, the State College System and the Legislative Performance Audit Committee,” NU officials said.
Foley has been fighting state officials for nearly two years to gain access to health insurance data for an audit.
He said earlier that the audit is vital to finding out why Nebraska has among the most costly state employee plans in the nation.
The university offers a separate health plan for its employees. During fiscal year 2009-10, the university paid more than $100 million in medical and prescription claims.
Foley said in the audit that it was important to determine that claims were paid only for people eligible for coverage.
The university did an eligibility review last year, after which it dropped 421 people from coverage. Officials said results of the review were shared with Foley's staff in August.
Foley's audit covered the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2011.
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