According to lawmakers, “it’s time to repair trust”
AUGUSTA—A request made by State Senator Joe Brannigan on behalf of legislative Democrats to investigate the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) was unanimously approved by the state’s Government Oversight committee today. Sen. Brannigan presented the committee with a one-page statement and a two-page memorandum on identified issues concerning management at DHHS. The information contained in the memo was amalgamated by providers and constituent correspondence.
“I am pleased with the committee’s decision today. Unless there is an objective understanding of what occurred—who knew what and when—I don’t understand how we can go forward,” said Sen. Brannigan of Portland. “Trust has been broken and there can be no confidence in the information coming out of the Department unless questions are answered.”
A significant computer error at DHHS led to 19,000 ineligible Maine people receiving access to state health care services. Since the revelation, DHHS has come forward with an additional 5,300 people who were ineligible and also receiving health care. The error was withheld from lawmakers during the height of budget negotiations in January, when the Department first removed the individuals from the program. The state auditor and Legislature’s fiscal office flagged the spike in enrollment in June 2011, but the LePage administration did not come forward with the information until early March 2012 – after the Legislature passed the budget cuts.
Much of the committee’s hour-long discussion centered on concerns about adequate communication between DHHS and providers, internal communications within DHHS, and the Department’s inability to answer questions presented by the Legislature.
“A breach of trust has occurred. We know mistakes were made and information was withheld from lawmakers at a critical time,” said Representative Chuck Kruger (D-Thomaston) who serves on the Government Oversight committee. “We want—and we need—the Legislature and the Chief Executive to be in good standing. I hope the investigation will be a first step in healing that breach.”
The committee agreed to a “rapid response” OPEGA review beginning in mid-May with a completed report expected by mid-July.
The Appropriations and Financial Affairs committee and Legislature still need to work on a 2013 DHHS budget later this session.
The decision from the Government Oversight committee comes after nearly a month of requests by legislative Democrats for an investigation into the operations at DHHS. On March 22, the Legislative Council in a party-line vote of 6 – 4 rejected Sen. Brannigan’s request for an OPEGA investigation.
Senator Brannigan has served a total of seven terms in the Maine Senate and formerly served seven terms in the Maine House. He is currently on the Insurance and Financial Affairs Committee. He is a former Senate and House chair of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee. He also served as the chair of the Health and Human Services Committee.