Gov. Paul LePage reacted appropriately Thursday, without jumping to conclusions, to an undercover video purportedly showing Maine at risk of welfare fraud.
At a news conference, two conservative groups unveiled a secretly recorded video showing an interaction between an actor pretending to apply for MaineCare benefits and two state employees.
The response of the first employee, boiled down to a 2-minute video, was shown at the press conference, on TV and is available on the Web.
It is disappointing to see her reaction to what is an obvious attempt to defraud the system.
The phony applicant says, among other things:
• That he has enough money to buy health insurance coverage,
• He has cash income that is unreported as such for tax purposes, and
• He works, but has no pay stubs to verify his income.
Responds the Department of Health and Human Services employee: “You don’t have a paycheck, you don’t file taxes, you have no income.”
We can’t help but think the IRS would disagree.
Here’s an applicant admitting to tax evasion, who says he has enough money to buy private insurance, and she’s giving him advice on how to avoid detection to obtain federal and state health benefits.
Gov. Paul LePage’s reaction to the video was measured. Clearly, he said, it shows the need for more training.
Yes, and perhaps a different kind of training.
“I send you out as sheep among wolves,” Jesus told his disciples. “Be then as wise as snakes, and as gentle as doves.”
We have always taken that to mean that good people trying to do good things, like help poor people, should be compassionate, but they must also be on the lookout for wolves.
Taxpayers must be assured that their hard-earned money goes only to the neediest people who prove beyond doubt that they qualify for benefits.
All others should be rejected or even prosecuted.
The short version of the video is shocking, but it is deceptive in its own sneaky way.
First, the short version contains no hint of how this all turned out. The increasingly baffled DHHS worker calls in a supervisor who is not deceived at all.
She asks all the right questions and accuses the man of being evasive. “Because you’re being evasive to some of the questions, it kind of makes me ask a lot more questions,” she says.
In the end, the phony applicant leaves knowing he needs to supply a lot more information. No benefits are granted or even promised.
The video says nothing about how many DHHS workers need more training, and we have no idea how many offices were visited before they found this hapless worker.
The real problem with the video is that it proves nothing we didn’t know before.
It claims to show a “vulnerability to fraud.” Heck, we already knew the system is not only vulnerable, but that we have actual fraud.
A string of recent benefit fraud prosecutions has proven as much.
Fraud exists in every business activity, from banking to automotive repairs.
The real question is the level. Is it 0.02 percent, or is it 20 or 30 percent? Is it rare, or is it widespread?
We all have our opinions about that. What we need are solid answers.
Those can be obtained only by doing a widespread audit of the system.
Given the emotion this issue raises with ordinary citizens, we should answer this question: What is the level of benefit fraud in Maine?
The next Legislature should allocate money to perform a statistically valid, system-wide audit to determine the level of benefit fraud in Maine.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.