Politics

February 10

Democrats plan bill to kill embattled welfare study contract

They say the first Alexander report was a skewed analysis the state can’t afford, but the DHHS chief insists it was accurate and useful.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Democratic lawmakers said Monday that they’re submitting a bill that would nullify a $925,000 contract that the LePage administration entered into with a consultant to examine Maine’s welfare system.

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Gary Alexander, founder of the Alexander Group, gives his analysis recently of a report his group developed regarding the cost of expanding MaineCare at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

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Gary Alexander, a former health and human services chief for Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, has been the subject of controversy since the administration announced in November that it had hired his firm, the Alexander Group. The contract, offered and awarded without competitive bidding, was signed Sept. 30.

The criticism has increased since January, when Alexander delivered an analysis of the feasibility of expanding Maine’s Medicaid program. One national analyst said the report contained a $575 million calculation error. Others noted that the report doesn’t show any cost savings from expanding Medicaid.

Democrats have said the contract is designed to validate the administration’s proposed welfare reforms and isn’t an independent analysis.

In a news release Monday, the Democratic Party said the state cannot afford a skewed study when it faces an estimated $70 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year that ends June 30.

“This is just one more in a tragic series of management errors from (Gov. Paul LePage) that is costing Maine taxpayers lots of money with little positive outcome,” said Rep. Richard Farnsworth of Portland, House chairman of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee.

Democrats contended that the administration used $185,000 in federal money designated for cash welfare benefits, known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, to pay Alexander. The entire study is funded with a mix of state general fund dollars and federal money.

So far, the state has paid Alexander $185,040.

“The Alexander Report fiasco is yet another example of Gov. LePage’s pattern of mismanagement,” said Sen. Margaret Craven of Lewiston, the Senate chairwoman of the Health and Human Services Committee.

It’s not clear what legal or legislative mechanism lawmakers might use to kill the contract. Democrats said details of the bill will be made available in coming weeks.

If the bill passes and is vetoed by LePage, it won’t take effect without Republican votes for a veto override.

DHHS CHIEF: CONTRACT HAS VALUE

Adrienne Bennett, the governor’s spokeswoman, said the administration does not comment on bills until it sees their details. She referred media inquiries to the Department of Health and Human Services, which manages the Medicaid program.

DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew said in a prepared statement that the bill is “a blatant attempt by partisan lawmakers to discredit a thorough and accurate report from a national Medicaid expert that does not support their political position on Medicaid expansion. To portray this bill as an attempt to save the Maine taxpayer money is disingenuous and misrepresentative.”

Mayhew said Alexander will provide the state with a valuable analysis, especially when he submits his proposals for gaining flexibility from the federal government in the use of Medicaid funding.

“The Alexander Group’s track record in these areas of reform is unsurpassed, especially in helping states gain flexibility within Medicaid in order to use resources to address the unmet needs of those who are elderly, disabled and the state’s most vulnerable,” she said.

The DHHS also disputed Democrats’ assertion that Alexander was paid with $185,000 designated for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, saying the amount is actually $91,964.

House Republican leader Kenneth Fredette of Newport said in a prepared statement that the bill is an example of Democrats, who have the majority in the Legislature, using the current session as a soapbox to campaign against LePage.

“Instead of scoring political points, Democrats should help us find solutions to the countless fiscal and economic problems caused by their decades of one-party rule,” Fredette said.

(Continued on page 2)

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Today's poll: Alexander Group

Should Gov. LePage's contract with the Alexander Group be voided?

Yes

No

View Results

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