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Maine Gov: Will Allow Cabinet Heads at Hearings
12/19/2013   Reported By: Mal Leary

Gov. Paul LePage met with a group of reporters to defend his positions around welfare reform, and to address several other issues facing the embattled Department of Health and Human Services. Those issues include widespread problems with the transportation program for MaineCare clients to the recent hiring of a controversial Medicaid consultant at the cost of $1 million. As Mal Leary reports, the governor also announced that he's changing a policy that's been a roadblock between legislative Democrats and his office.

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LePage to Allow Cabinet Heads at Hearings Listen
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Hear Gov. LePage's news conference
Originally Aired: 12/19/2013 5:30 PM
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The governor addressed a range of issues in the nearly 40-minute-long session in his office. He says an agreement reached with legislative leaders on improved decorum at legislative committee meetings means he will reverse an earlier position and allow his commissioners to appear before committees.

"We have been working with leadership for the last three weeks to resolve the differences, and we have all come to the same place. Today it's going to be announced that all my commissioners and everybody go back and work with the committees. But I need some level of decorum. I do not need legislators calling them the types of names and insults that go on."

Senate President Justin Alfond, a Democrat from Portland, says all the leaders of the Legislature, from both parties, have sent a letter to committees urging them to follow the basic rules of decorum.

"We are going back to normal and I think Mainers have seen that whoever is in power that we want to do what is right for the state of Maine we are going to do it in a job that is done at the highest level. To do that , we need information and now that we are going back to normal where commissioners and other staff from the executive will be available to use that we will have good results for the people of Maine."

Many of those issues that need to be addressed are in DHHS, and LePage covered several in his news conference. For example, he says the scope of abuse of the electronic benefit cards used in state welfare programs needs to stop.

"The speaker of the House says it was a small problem, insignificant. It?s a major problem, major?far bigger than I would ever, ever have imagined. And it?s not thousands of dollars; it is in to the seven digits. This is big, this is a big, big problem."

House Speaker Mark Eves, a Democrat from North Berwick, says he never characterized the problem as small and that lawmakers will address fraud and abuse.

"Nobody wants to have cash benefits pay for alcohol and cigarettes. That is not what this is about, the Governor is trying to score political points here. But, of course, we are going to take fraud and misuse of any state money seriously."

The governor told reporters that the Alexander Group has provided a report recommending changes to MaineCare, the state?s name for Medicaid. But he will not release it until he has read it.

"The report is being looked at by the department. And I am going to be looking at it. And when we are ready and feel that?..yeah we can get you the date it came in, but I know that it is here. I just haven?t had a chance to look at it and when I have looked at it and we are all comfortable are on the same page. We all have the same understanding, it will be released."

DHHS confirms they received the report on Dec. 16 and don't expect to release it until the week of Jan. 6. In addition to several news organizations - including MPBN - requesting copies of the document, so have committees of the Legislature.

The governor also commented on the months-long problem of new providers of transportation for MaineCare clients to get to medical providers. He agrees there have been serious problems, but not all at DHHS. He says the state bidding process, or request for proposals, needs improving.

"The problem is in our RFP system. I just haven't had the time to get to that and to refine that. In fact Justin Alfond, the President of the Senate and I totally agree that is a failed system."

The governor says it's likely some of the current contracts will not be renewed and he pledged that the problems will be fixed.

He also told reporters he only regrets one of his several statements that have generated wide spread criticism since he took office, and that was the harsh comments he made about Sen. Troy Jackson, a Democrat from Allagash, earlier this year. The governor says he erred by taking some of Jackson's comments personally.

"Nobody sitting in this seat should take it personally. That day it took it personal and I want after him. And that is the only reason I got angry at him. I got a sick mother in law who lives with us and he tried to throw her out on the street and I took offense to that."

The governor says as far as his other headline generating comments: They stand.



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