AUGUSTA – Two conservative groups, Americans For Prosperity of Maine and the Maine Heritage Policy Center, presented a video clip they allege exposes “vulnerabilities” in Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services.
The video, sent to Carol Weston, state director of AFP, by James O’Keefe, shows an actor portraying a drug smuggler attempting to receive medicaid benefits. According to Weston, he eventually leaves the state office with an application form to fill out to receive MaineCare benefits.
The video shows the DHHS worker, identified only as Diane, suggesting that because the applicant receives no paychecks to report he has no income – despite the fact that he tells her he runs a cash business. But the worker also repeatedly tells the applicant, who speaks with an Irish accent, that she cannot help him fill out his application until he presents photo identification, a passport or naturalization papers. She also repeatedly tries to get him to apply for insurance through Dirigo Health, which offers subsidized insurance, but would require him to pay a premium.
A short, edited clip of about two minutes was presented to reporters at a State House press conference on Thursday morning, but Weston encouraged people to view the entire 49-minute video at www.mainepolicy.org.
O’Keefe, who calls himself a citizen journalist, has generated controversy and criticism for using heavily edited video clips to ‘expose’ illegal activities or liberal media bias. He also has pleaded guilty to entering a federal building under false pretenses.
The Maine-based video is part of a wider effort by O’Keefe and his backers to expose Medicaid fraud across the country, Weston said.
Lance Dutson, chief executive officer of MHPC, said while the video only depicts one instance it supports the theory his group has about the ‘culture’ at DHHS.
“It shows clearly what many of us have believed for some time – that Maine’s welfare system is exceedingly vulnerable to fraud and that we have front line stewards of taxpayer funds who are not adequately equipped to perform their duties,” he said.
Neither Weston nor Dutson knew who was providing funding to O’Keefe, they said.
Gov. Paul LePage and DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew briefed reporters following the morning press conference. They said the worker was inexperienced and inadequately trained. LePage also said he wishes he could have seen the video in February when it was allegedly taken so he could have addressed the problem earlier.
Both also said that in the full length video a supervisor was consulted and told the applicant that he was being evasive.
But LePage called the initial worker’s actions unacceptable and pledged to improve training to front line workers in the department.
Mayhew declined to discuss whether or not the DHHS worker, Diane, has or will face any disciplinary action.
Sara Gagne Holmes, of Maine Equal Justice Partners, an advocacy group for low-income Mainers, emphasized that the video showed no actual fraud and the applicant did not receive any benefits.
This story has been updated with additional information from the original posting.