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Democrats Call for Investigation into Handling of Maine DHHS Computer Glitch
03/07/2012   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

Maine Democrats are calling for a full accounting from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services in the aftermath of yet another computer malfunction that threatens to punch a multi-million dollar hole in the state budget. DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew says the snafu resulted in 19,000 people receiving MaineCare services even though they were ineligible. Democrats say the error justifies their skepticism over the need for the sweeping MaineCare cuts advanced by the LePage administration.

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When Gov. Paul LePage announced in January that Maine would be going broke in April if it didn't institute some far-reaching human services cuts in the state's two-year budget cycle, state Rep. Peggy Rotundo only bought part of the argument.

And now as it turns out, the Lewiston Democrat had a pretty good reason to question the administration's numbers. "They just didn't add up," she says "We finally were able to settle on numbers for (fiscal year) '12, but OFPR had not been able to confirm the numbers for '13," Rotundo said.

And it wasn't just Democrats like Rotundo on the Legislature's Appropriations Committee--Republicans also initially voiced concerns, accepted some of the administration's calculations, and now find themselves questioning them again.

The problem stems from a computer glitch that wound up paying out Medicaid benefits to more than 19,000 people who were ineligible to receive them. The problem has implications for the current budget cycle that ends on June 30th and calls into question the need for the elimination or scaling back of numerous Medicaid program in the budget cycle than begins July 1st.

What irritates Rotundo is the fact that the administration strongly defended the numbers when there were signs that something was not adding up at DHHS as early as January.

"The incompetency within that department was such that they had uncovered a problem that directly impacted what we were talking about and wrestling with in Appropriations, and for some reason that was never shared with us," Rotundo says. "And for us to be publicly discussing these figures and their accuracy, and we couldn't figure out what they were, and could they be the system, to have people in DHHS know that there were problems with the system and not share that with us is astounding to me."

Mary Mayhew doesn't deny that red flags were being raised within her department over the numbers being offered to the Appropriations Committee. The problem was, the person who knew about them did not promptly notify her about the computer malfunction.

"I was informed of this recently," Mayhew says. "We have been gathering information. While the issue was identified in late January, we did not fully have the analysis done. We still do not have a comprehensive analysis done of the eligibility issue and of the financial implications of these cases."

And the implications are significant, Mayhew says. Not only is the state out the money it has paid out to providers to date, there are two-to-one matching federal funds that could be the focus of a federal Health and Human Services audit -- and the state could be on the hook for that money.

Mike Tipping, communications director for the progressive Maine People's Alliance, says for those reasons, and for the anxiety and hardship that the administration has caused for the state's neediest citizens, Mayhew should tender her resignation.

"There were a lot of promises when Mary Mayhew was nominated," Tipping says. "That they'd be watching every penny, I think was her word and would be accountable to taxpayers, and instead there has been less focus on good management and good health care and more focus on what the governor sees as good politics."

Republicans are also concerned about the reliability of DHHS numbers. But Assistant House Majority Leader Andre Cushing says that correcting the computer billing and payment system at DHHS continues to be a work in progress and that now is no time to be assigning blame.

"As we work on the details we find more and more problems with a system that was not properly installed," Cushing says. "I think it's unfortunate when people want to point fingers at folks and cast blame, or question the credibility of this, because the reality is we are working on a system that was rushed into place to replace a non-functioning computer system in the last administration that they inherited from the previous administration, if I'm not mistaken."

Members of the Appropriations committee say they may not know the full extent of the problems at DHHS until mid-April.


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