January 11

Alexander's MaineCare expansion report has first public airing

A consultant’s study warns that expansion of Medicaid will bring Maine a significant economic burden, but critics dispute the numbers.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Maine should not expand its Medicaid program because it would add 124,000 recipients and increase its costs by $807 million over 10 years, says a consultant’s report released Friday by the LePage administration.

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Gary Alexander of the Alexander Group presents his analysis of a report his group developed regarding the cost of expanding MaineCare at the Department of Health and Human Services in Augusta on Friday, January 10, 2014.

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Mary Mayhew, commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services, discusses findings of a report done by the Alexander Group about the cost of expanding MaineCare while talking to reporters at the Department of Health and Human Services in Augusta on Friday, January 10, 2014.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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“This report highlights the fact that Maine’s General Fund is on track to be consumed by the MaineCare program,” said Gary Alexander of the Alexander Group. “Expanding eligibility for MaineCare to the able-bodied residents of working age will place at risk existing commitments Maine has to their traditional Medicaid recipients: those who are disabled and those who are elderly.”

Alexander indicated that there are opportunities to improve the program if the federal government gives the state more flexibility.

The former Pennsylvania welfare director, whose reforms in that state have been assailed by a Democratic program auditor, presented the first installment of his $925,000, taxpayer-funded study of Maine’s public assistance program Friday at the headquarters of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The administration received the report nearly four weeks ago but refused to release it until Friday, despite requests under the Freedom of Access Act from media outlets including the Portland Press Herald. Administration officials conceded that the report is a public document but said it is complex and Gov. Paul LePage wanted time to digest it before its release.

Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat, urged the administration this week to release the report or risk a court ruling that it was violating the law. LePage said Mills could “sue me” if she wanted the documents released.

The report is one of three that Alexander was scheduled to submit to the state last month under the terms of his contract. It’s not known whether he has delivered the others – an analysis of Maine’s welfare programs and an overhaul plan for Medicaid.

DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew ended Friday’s news conference before reporters could ask about the other reports. The Press Herald made a formal request to the DHHS on Thursday for any other reports submitted by Alexander, but the department has not said whether it has them.

DISPUTING THE NUMBERS

Democratic lawmakers have characterized Alexander as a crony who was hired to bolster LePage’s controversial policy initiatives. Democratic leaders said his report would not be an independent study, but tailored to validate the governor’s goals.

Alexander would not respond to such criticism during his presentation Friday. Several times, Mayhew stepped in to answer questions that reporters tried to direct to Alexander. She raised her voice while criticizing reporters for not focusing on the report, which was released as the news conference began.

“This work is valuable,” Mayhew said of the report. “I’m not going to waste my time, the department’s time (talking about Alexander’s critics).”

But criticism followed quickly from outside groups and Democrats.

Sarah Gagne-Holmes, head of Maine Equal Justice Partners, an advocacy group for the poor, said she had yet to evaluate Alexander’s methodology but the cost projections are far above those produced by independent analysts.

“We know in the past the governor has used data to support his position,” she said. “From what little of the report that I’ve seen, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the same thing. The (Legislature’s nonpartisan budget office) had very different numbers.”

She said, “Our (enrollment) growth rate is below the national trend. (Alexander) has a growth rate that’s well above the national trend.”

Alexander said his enrollment projection is higher because people would gravitate to Medicaid rather than pay for their own insurance. He also said, as Mayhew and the administration have said frequently, that Maine would be unwise to trust the federal government’s promises to fund Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Gary Alexander of the Alexander Group presents his analysis of a report his group developed regarding the cost of expanding MaineCare at the Department of Health and Human Services in Augusta on Friday, January 10, 2014.

Photos by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

  


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