March 10, 2012

LePage to propose restructuring DHHS

The Associated Press

AUGUSTA — The LePage administration will submit a bill to restructure the Department of Health and Human Services, a move that has nothing to do with a recent computer glitch that resulted in up to 19,000 people receiving MaineCare services for which they weren't eligible, the governor's spokeswoman said Friday.

The bill will propose consolidating portions of the department and eliminating some jobs, but details haven't been released, said Adrienne Bennett, spokeswoman for Gov. Paul LePage. DHHS is the state's largest department, with about 3,600 employees.

Bennett said the bill has been in the works for months and is part of the governor's "zero-based budgeting" initiative, in which department heads were directed to use a cost-benefit analysis when looking at programs and expenditures.

Officials say the bill could be submitted to the Legislature as soon as next week.

DHHS has come under fire this week after Commissioner Mary Mayhew informed lawmakers about the computer malfunction that caused many MaineCare cards to remain active after recipients of MaineCare, the state's Medicaid program, were notified they had lost eligibility.

Mayhew told the Legislature's Appropriations Committee on Friday she should have alerted lawmakers sooner to the problem, which was discovered in January. She said it will take time to determine the exact cost of the overpayments.

Legislators questioned why it took so long to identify the problem even after audits raised red flags as early as last summer and lawmakers raised questions later in the year about unexpected increases in MaineCare spending, the Bangor Daily News reported.

Mayhew told committee members she takes responsibility for the problem and blamed it on miscommunication within the department.

"This is about communications and management of a project and communications through management to the commissioner's office," she said.

LePage issued a statement late Friday expressing "complete confidence" in Mayhew.

"Commissioner Mayhew will do what is required to understand what went wrong — from the technical issues to the way staff made and communicated decisions," he said.


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