On March 7, newspapers statewide reported that “a computer problem that allowed at least 19,000 Mainers who were not eligible for Medicaid to receive benefits has thrown state budget assumptions into doubt and may extend the current legislative session while the situation is addressed.” The article added that the “staff at the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) were aware of a problem with the bill-paying computer system since 2010 but it was not brought to the attention of (DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew) and other agency leaders until January.”
This set off alarms about the credibility of the information DHHS has provided to lawmakers as they debate drastic cuts to MaineCare coverage for thousands of Maine’s most vulnerable citizens. Beginning in November, the LePage Administration has conducted an unrelenting campaign demanding cuts based on DHHS budget projections and discredited claims about a massive increase of people into the MaineCare program. In February, legislators approved a supplemental budget to fund DHHS through the end of the current fiscal year that eliminated MaineCare coverage for 14,000 Mainers.
Both the Portland Press Herald and the Bangor Daily News reported on March 8 that the DHHS computer errors will add to the state’s immediate budget problems. “”There will be an audit,” Mayhew told lawmakers according to the Portland Press Herald. “There will be a requirement to pay those funds back (to the federal government).”
The payment “glitch” revelations also call into question the performance of DHHS senior management. As the (Lewiston) Sun Journal reported on March 8 “according to Mayhew, the program managers who would have been notified of the problem were the director of MaineCare Services, the MaineCare finance director and the director for the Office of Family Independence. The directors are political appointments by the governor. Gov. Paul LePage, in an effort to implement his new policy initiatives, last year jettisoned a host of program directors from DHHS, including all three directors from the aforementioned offices.”
As MECEP followers know, we take great pride in the accuracy and reliability of the data and analysis we provide to Maine policymakers, the media and the general public. That is why we joined our partners in the Maine Can Do Better coalition in calling for an independent investigation of the DHHS computer glitch before the Legislature approves any further cuts to Maine Care. Before we put the health care of any more Mainers at risk, we need accurate data and accountability from DHHS and the LePage Administration.