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Michaud Proposes DHHS Watchdog Agency
06/05/2014   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud says he would create an Office of Inspector General for the state Department of Health and Human Services to identify waste and fraud. Michaud says that under the administration of his Republican rival, Gov. Paul LePage, Maine's largest state agency has been mismanaged, and mired in scandal. Michaud's Blaine House opponents say the plan would simply increase the size of government bureaucracy with no guarantees of greater accountability. A.J. Higgins reports.

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Mike Michaud

It's been a rough year for the LePage administration and the Department of Health and Human Services. They saw the state's Medicaid beds at Riverview Psychiatric Hospital terminated by the feds. They paid $1 million for a welfare study from a Rhode Island consultant that turned out to be lifted, in part, from other sources. They paid millions to a MaineCare transportation provider that generated hundreds of complaints for failing to deliver patients to their destinations.

Democratic congressman and gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud (left) says he has a plan that will bring greater accountability to DHHS.

"Today I am proposing the creation of the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services," Michaud said. "The office will fight waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement at all levels of the Department of Human Services."

Michaud says he is as outraged as anyone when he hears about instances of fraud. But he challenged LePage's decision to hire eight new fraud investigators at a cost of $700,000 a year, when their efforts, thus far, have yielded only $52,000 in restitution. He said the Republican governor's verbal maligning of the poor was inappropriate and politically motivated.

"As governor, I will not tolerate the abuse of the system that Gov. LePage has allowed to continue unchecked during his administration, only to bring it up in an election year as the governor has done," Michaud said. "But I also will not tolerate stereotyping the poor and calling them lazy as a way to just blindly slash programs that truly help Maine's families in need."

Michaud said the new Office of Inspector General would be independent of both the executive and legislative branches, and would use staff currently assigned to DHHS. He said it would function much like another watchdog government agency, the Office of Program Evaluation and Governmental Accountability.

"When you look at OPEGA, OPEGA has done a good job," Michaud said. "The problem with OPEGA is that they're not focused on the day-to-day operations within state government. So this would be similar, but the focus would be on day-to-day operations within the Department of Health and Human Services."

Michaud's independent opponent, Eliot Cutler, says OPEGA is easily capable of carrying out an investigation into DHHS - and, in fact, is scheduled to undertake such a probe this year.

"OPEGA already has in its work plan for 2013-14 - and I hope they're getting at it - is a study of how DHHS deals with waste fraud and abuse," Cutler says. "That's the kind of study that OPEGA is supposed to do. Why we need to invent another agency is beyond me."

Outside the State House where Michaud was meeting with reporters, LePage supporters lined up to protest the 2nd District Congressman's campaign visit. Senate Minority Leader Mike Thibodeau of Winterport said Michaud was the kind of Democrat he and other GOP lawmakers had battled with throughout the session in their failed attempt to implement LePage's welfare reforms.

"The governor has taken the lead, proposing several bills that would have reformed the broken system," Thibodeau said. "Yet, they have defended it, and this is just smoke and mirrors - an opportunity to try to score political points."

Michaud says his OIG plan will not only curb welfare abuse, it will make the state's anti-poverty programs more efficient and effective at helping families to build a better life.

Photo: Mal Leary

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