AUGUSTA — A modified plan to restructure the Department of Health and Human Services earned strong support from a legislative committee Tuesday after the department proposed to keep more jobs in-house.

Just two hours after Democrats lambasted the department at a news conference, nine of the 13 members of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee supported a plan to restructure the department.

The restructuring is unrelated to the recent disclosure that 19,000 people continued to receive MaineCare coverage for months after they were found to be ineligible, the LePage administration has said.

Democrats on Tuesday continued to call for an independent investigation into the DHHS because they were not immediately notified of the MaineCare problem. The matter has been referred to the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee for consideration on Friday.

In supporting the restructuring bill, Rep. Les Fossel, R-Alna, said problems that have plagued the department for years must be addressed, and that a reorganization is long overdue.

“Doing nothing is not an alternative,” Fossel said. “To vote to do nothing is a vote to continue the damaging insanity that’s been going on there for some time.”

Yet other legislators on the Health and Human Services Committee said they could not trust the department to restructure, given the problems with MaineCare.

“The DHHS has to earn my trust back before I can support extensive restructuring that’s based on ‘trust me,’ ” said Rep. Linda Sanborn, D-Gorham, one of three Democrats who opposed the bill, L.D. 1887.

Before Tuesday, there were many questions about a part of the bill that would have privatized about 40 positions for intensive case managers who work with adults with mental illness. The department refined the proposal Tuesday to say that 17 intensive case managers who work with the mentally ill at county jails and state prisons would continue to work for the state.

That would leave about 24 jobs to be put out to bid for a nonprofit or for-profit agency, said Guy Cousins, acting director of Adult Mental Health Services.

He said the department believes that contracting out the services would lead to better care for patients. For at least six years, private groups have approached the state with interest in bidding on a contract, he said.

Overall, the DHHS restructuring is designed not to save money, but to better align the department with the priorities of the administration. Several offices would be combined, and the DHHS would have the power to hire an agency to advocate for people with intellectual disabilities and autism.

In addition to the intensive case manager jobs, dozens of positions in the department would be eliminated.

State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: [email protected]