Weekly Radio Address: Rep. Rotundo says DHHS error should never have been withheld, undermines trust

Posted: March 12, 2012 | Weekly Radio Address
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Good morning, I’m State Rep. Peggy Rotundo from Lewiston and the ranking Democrat on the state’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee.

 

This week lawmakers in Augusta learned that a computer error in the state’s health care program, MaineCare, contributed to the shortfall in the state budget. The error allowed 19,000 ineligible Mainers to receive health care coverage.  While the LePage Administration knew about this error in January, they withheld the mistake until this week.

 

Imagine a boardroom where a CEO knowingly withheld this kind of error to its shareholders. In this case we, the taxpayers, are the shareholders and we must hold the Governor accountable.

 

Now, instead of focusing on policies that will create jobs, put more money in the pockets of middle class families, and get our economy back on track, we are stuck untangling this mess.

 

Computers – and humans – make mistakes. Certainly, those of us who have been balancing the state budget for years have seen these kinds of things happen before. That is why it is astounding and disturbing that this mistake was not reported to us immediately.

 

The incompetence and mismanagement are shameful. When Democrats asked these very questions about the computer payment system in January, when the numbers weren’t adding up, we were unfairly accused of dragging our feet. We were called obstructionist.

 

We were scratching our heads and spending late nights poring over spreadsheets. While the staff at Health and Human Services did provide us with information, they never told us these critical facts.

 

Why?

 

How could they allow us to pass a budget built on faulty numbers, when we were asking these very questions?

 

Instead of coming forward with the truth, the governor threatened to close schools if we didn’t pass his budget. He came down to our committee room to bully us. But never once did anyone stand up to share this critical information.

 

This is more than a simple computer error. It is an affront to a fair and open process.

 

Now we are left wondering if this is the tip of the iceberg. How can we have confidence in the Department’s information? How can we trust the data?

 

We must know who knew what, when, and why this was not made public until now. Asking for the truth should not be a partisan question. My fellow Republicans must be pondering the same questions.

 

We now know that the state auditor and the Legislature’s fiscal office had raised these red flags with the LePage Administration in June of last year.

 

Democrats have never agreed with the governor or his staff on the best way to close the shortfall, but we knew we had to solve the problem.

 

It is okay to disagree, but it is not okay to withhold information for months during the height of budget negotiations, where people’s livelihoods are at stake.

 

While we were weighing the governor’s proposal to remove health care from the elderly and disabled, we were kept in the dark about significant problems.  There is no excuse. We should have been told.

 

As a veteran of the Appropriations Committee, I’ve balanced tough budgets during the leanest times in our state. Through honest and transparent communication, and long nights of negotiations, we worked together to solve the problems.

 

And, we were only able to do that because of trust and commitment to a fair and open process that we had with each other.

 

Going forward, we must have full disclosure and accurate information. Democrats are anxious to move forward with improvements to the state health care system.

 

We must focus on how to deliver health care to our most needy more efficiently.

 

We must combat fraud in the system.

 

We must focus on increasing access to preventative health care to avoid the expensive emergency room care that drives up costs for all of us.

 

Thank you for listening, I’m Rep. Peggy Rotundo.