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Mayhew Apologizes to Lawmakers for Failure to Disclose Ineligible Payments Snafu Sooner
03/09/2012   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

Maine Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew today apologized to state lawmakers for not informing them about a major snafu in the state's MaineCare computer system that she first learned about back in January. Earlier this week, Mayhew disclosed that the problem had resulted in some 19,000 Mainers receiving state Medicaid services, even though they weren't eligible. Mayhew appeared today before the Legislature's Appropriations Committee, but couldn't completely explain how the error happened or what it's financial impact will be on the budget.

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During the last three months, there have been times when Gov. Paul LePage has lectured members of the Legislature's Appropriations Committee over their failure to take seriously his assertions that large-scale Medicaid cuts had to be approved immediately. He even criticized members of his own party on the panel for not endorsing his Health and Human Services restructuring plan.

Lawmakers had doubts about the validity of the math behind some of LePage's claims. And when DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew met with the committee, Democratic state Rep. Peggy Rotundo, of Lewiston, wondered aloud about whether lawmakers could rely on the administration's numbers as they prepare to craft another supplemental budget.

"There's a level of trust that has to exist between the legislative branch and the exceutive branch, and I think work needs to be done to repair that," Rontundo said.

Democrats on the committee have felt the sting of the administration's press releases over the the last several weeks. 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 -- even as the commissioner admitted that she had been aware as long ago as January that there were problems with department's assumptions about the number of Mainers on Medicaid.

"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 says she only recently learned of the the scope of the computer problem at DHHS, and that it has been paying for Medicaid benefits for 19,000 Mainers who are ineligible. Mayhew apologized for not coming to the committee sooner.

"We should have raised to you the fact that a problem had been brought to our attention, that the issue existed," Mayhew said.

But State Sen. Dawn Hill, a Cape Neddick Democrat, wasn't satisfied. "I think we still have problems and the apology doesn't weigh that heavily with me," Hill says. "We have communication issues far beyond computer issues. And still it's an ongoing problem, so the state is still bleeding money."

Mayhew says that the problem is a complex one and goes beyond a software issue. She says it involves bureaucratic obstacles that have affected how personnel have communicated with each other about the process.

"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."

"You may have the worst job in the state of Maine--thank you for doing it," said state Sen. Roger Katz. Katz, an Augusta Republican, reflected the general mood of GOP lawmakers on the panel who--while concerned about the veracity of the numbers coming from the administration--were publicly supportive of Mayhew, who felt she was doing the best she could in a department that has had a long history of technological challenges.


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