DHHS brings another problem to the Statehouse
by Gina Hamilton
AUGUSTA -- Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner brought yet another expensive mistake to the Statehouse on March 9 ... some 19,000 ineligible MaineCare recipients had been receiving medical care because DHHS had two computers that couldn't talk to each other.
One computer was responsible for running the numbers to see if a person was eligible initially; the other was supposed to flag the account when the person got a job, moved out of state, or lost eligibility because a child grew up.
Mayhew said she learned about the problem in January, but didn't bring it to the Legislature's attention ... even in the face of withering questioning about DHHS numbers ... until Friday. She couldn't explain how it happened or what the fiscal impact would be.
Mayhew apologized, but to Democrats on the Committee, who had been the target of a concerted effort by the administration to accept the numbers presented and move on, the apology just wasn't enough.
State Rep. David Webster of Freeport reminded Mayhew about how the administration had disregarded doubts voiced by the non-partisan Office of Fiscal and Program Review during the whole supplemental budget process.
"As you recall, that office was saying, 'We see how you get to the shortfall but the numbers don't make sense.' And by the end of our closing the budget, you told us we'd been gotten all the information we needed and you weren't going to answer any more questions," Webster said. "So this is going to be a new day and hopefully we're going to move forward."
Mayhew said that the problem is more complex than a simple software issue. The bureaucratic nature of the department keeps staff from discussing cases with one another, too.
"People are working outside of silos to connect the dots between various flags that perhaps may have been identified but not connected back to system issues and communication issues," Mayhew said. "I hear you, and I share your concerns about whether or not, put together, these various issues should have pointed to a core problem in the system that needed to be addressed and better understood in terms of its implications."
Mayhew did not disclose any future plans for correcting these problems, and she could not put a dollar figure on the problem. Gov. Paul LePage immediately expressed support for Mayhew in a statement.
It appears that if money for ineligible Mainers was spent, the state will have to reimburse the federal government for the improper expenditures.
On Tuesday, LePage's finance commissioner presented lawmakers with an additional supplemental budget for state government that further cuts spending but also includes tax breaks for certain businesses, retirees and members of military.
The budget, presented by Sawin Millett on Tuesday, would slash general assistance reimbursement to service center communities such as Bangor, Portland and Lewiston and would eliminate all public funding for the Maine Public Broadcasting Network.
The erroneous payments for ineligible MaineCare recipients are not yet budgeted for.