AUGUSTA — Some Democrats are upset with the LePage administration’s decision to fire the state’s Medicaid director, saying it sends a message to other senior staffers not to distribute facts that challenge Republican ideology.

Anthony Marple, 63, who oversaw Maine’s $2.6 billion-a-year Medicaid program for four years, was fired on Jan. 13, one day after he appeared before the Legislature’s powerful Appropriations Committee.

A Democratic committee member, Rep. David Webster of Freeport, said Marple gave a presentation showing that the amount of money Maine has spent on Medicaid from its general fund has been stable or declined each year since 2006, even as enrollment has grown because of the recession.

Webster said the presentation may have surprised some of the committee’s newly elected Republican members because it didn’t line up with their campaign rhetoric.

“It doesn’t fit in with the idea of runaway spending,” Webster said.

Sen. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, who serves on the Health and Human Services Committee, said Marple was dismissed the day after his presentation and told to leave immediately. She said she is concerned about a loss of expertise in the Department of Health and Human Services, where several key positions have been vacant since LePage become governor on Jan. 5.

Marple is a registered Democrat, but Craven said he was not a political person and was widely respected for his skills and knowledge.

“I don’t think we can replace his skills at DHHS,” Craven said. “It’s unfortunate that he made people feel uncomfortable.”

Craven said she worries the firing will send a message to other officials that they tell lawmakers the truth at their peril.

Rep. Michael Carey, D-Lewiston, who serves on the Legislature’s Regulatory Reform Committee, said lawmakers depend on facts to make good decisions. He said Marple’s presentation didn’t fit into some Republicans’ campaign stories of MaineCare spending being overly generous and rising.

“The thing that concerns me is that the story is more important than the truth,” he said.

Marple, who has a new job as interim chief financial officer at Mercy Hospital in Portland, declined to comment for this story.

LePage’s spokesman, Dan Demeritt, said Friday that the administration will not discuss personnel issues and noted that the new governor has the right to hire new managers to implement his policies.

The Appropriations Committee’s Senate chairman, Richard Rosen, R-Bucksport, said Marple’s presentation was a routine backgrounder providing information that was familiar to most of the committee members.

He said he doesn’t know why Marple was fired.

Rosen said that in the first months of John Baldacci’s administration, similar changes were made as the new governor brought in his own team.

“I don’t see this as anything unusual or different than the transition of power from one administration to the next,” Rosen said.

Republicans were critical of the way the Baldacci administration managed the state’s Medicaid program, called MaineCare. In a radio address in 2009, Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, who is now the speaker of the House, said MaineCare was the second-most expensive Medicaid program in the nation and was 90 percent more costly per person than the U.S. average.

He said rising MaineCare spending was crowding out other parts of the budget.

With a combination of state and federal money, MaineCare provides free medical and dental care to low-income residents.

More than 300,000 Maine residents are in the program, which runs on an annual budget of about $2.6 billion. Two-thirds of that money comes from the federal government.

According to Marple’s presentation, a copy of which was obtained by MaineToday Media, Maine has done a better job containing costs than most states.

The state’s current Medicaid spending is below 2006 levels, due to a combination of cost-containment efforts and increased federal stimulus assistance, according to the presentation. That stimulus funding will end July 1, creating a shortfall in the budget. 

MaineToday State House Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 699-6261 or at: [email protected]