Politics

December 5, 2013

LePage slams U.S. for missed referrals of MaineCare cases

But Democrats say many of the problems are of the governor’s own making.

By Joe Lawlor jlawlor@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Gov. Paul LePage on Thursday criticized the head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for computer snafus related to the rollout of www.HealthCare.gov that could prevent some people from receiving MaineCare in 2014.

LePage sent a letter to Kathleen Sebelius attacking her for providing “misleading and inaccurate” information to Maine residents since the website launched Oct. 1.

The problem involves residents who used the federally run HealthCare.gov website to sign up for insurance coverage and learned that they qualify for Medicaid, the federal program that provides health care to low-income people. The residents were supposed to be automatically enrolled in Maine- Care, the state’s version of Medicaid, but computer problems prevented states from being notified of the enrollments, leaving the residents in a bureaucratic limbo.

About 600 Mainers couldn’t be enrolled in MaineCare because their information had not been shared with the state government.

“Since you have no guidance for when your computer systems will start sending the necessary information to Maine, the administrative burden that will fall on state staff will be overwhelming, especially with the likelihood that the number of applications will continue to grow,” LePage wrote. “I want to be clear that our state will not accept, nor bear the burden of what the federal government has caused in its failed system launch.”

Officials at the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services told the Press Herald that the problem is on its way to being resolved. They did not comment directly on LePage’s accusations, but pointed to a Nov. 29 letter to state officials indicating that the problem is being worked on and that temporary workarounds will permit states to receive information on Medicaid enrollees.

Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, who serves on the Legislature’s health and human services committee, said LePage, who vetoed efforts to expand MaineCare under the Affordable Care Act, seems more interested in scoring political points than the well-being of those trying to sign up for MaineCare.

“I wish he had been equally caring about the 75,000 people not getting MaineCare because of his decisions,” Gattine said. The federal government would have paid for 100 percent of the Medicaid expansion for the first three years, and 90 percent in subsequent years. LePage is among a group of Republican governors who have blocked Medicaid expansion, citing concerns over long-term costs.

Gattine also noted that had LePage opted for the state to run its own health insurance website and not relied on HealthCare.gov, it wouldn’t have the notification issues. So in many ways, the problems are of LePage’s own making, Gattine said.

Seventeen states chose to create their own websites, while others, like Maine, relied on HealthCare.gov. Overall, the federal website has been working much better since mid-November, according to federal officials. Statistics on how many people enrolled in November, including a state-by-state breakdown, will likely be announced next week.

In October, the first month of enrollment, only 271 Mainers were able to sign up for benefits through HealthCare.gov because of persistent computer glitches.

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

jlawlor@pressherald.com

Twitter: @joelawlorph

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