Video dramatic, but we need to audit the system

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.

Argh!

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.

rrhoades@sunjournal.com

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.

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Comments

Jim Cyr's picture

P.S.

Or better yet, how about any Government Department or program that has not been "privatized". Privatizing is far more efficient and less expensive!

Jim Cyr's picture

Allocate precious money

for an audit that the system should have it's own "checks & balances". Lets just throw more good money after bad! Is there not an "entitlement" program not buried in "Fraud and Waste"?

 's picture

Law enforcement!!!!!

Time for our legal folks to take a very close look here. Not about fruad, the only fraud here is perpetuated by O'Keefe, MHPC and AFP. The whole thing is a fraud that the media lapped up like chocolate sauce dripping off their hot fudge sundae from Fast Eddies.
The legal question here is O'Keefe's actions.

Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 15, § 709: Interception of wire and oral communications is a "Class C" crime under the state criminal code, and an interceptor is someone other than the sender or receiver of a communication who is not in the range of "normal unaided hearing" and has not been given the authority to hear or record the communication by a sender or receiver.

Jason Theriault's picture

Yeah, try again

Ok, as mjuch as I would like to get this guy for being a jerk, you're mis-interpreting Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 15, § 709, or at least you missed "...by a sender or receiver." .

That means one party must consent. Obviously, the guy taping it consented.

Steve  Dosh's picture

Video dramatic, but we need to audit the system

. ...uh huh we do . Good editorial . Guilt or innocence is a bit like being pregnant : one is or one isn't
Is wiretapping legal in the Great State of Maine ? i belive George Bush's Supreme Court struck down a Federal statute prohibiting wiretapping yet i could be wrong . It doesn't speak to States' rights in this regard , although Federal law usually trumps State statues , promulgations , covenants , rules , regulations , edicts , executive orders and other laws . Legal or not legal pot cultivation , use , sale , and distribution ( i.e., prohibition ) is a good example . The Executive branch usually proposes these days and Congress disposes . The Supreme Courts ( National and State ) only interpret laws
Wiretapping was legal overseas in Panama and Guatemala when we threw three US citizens in jail for embezzlement . Caught 'em red handed , too , on videotape in 1 9 8 8 - Mssrs. Krause , Enos , and Massey
It was not entrapment like the celbrated Mayor Barry D C case litigated and won by R. Kenneth Mundy [ R I P - friend of our's ] , the flamboyant Washington lawyer who defended him against drug and perjury charges
h t h /s, Dr. Dosh
also ref : http://expertpages.com/news/taping_conversations.htm ? 7 pm hst • Sunday

Chuck Gage's picture

A sting operation?

First off, I have not seen the video.

No doubt some additional training is needed but if a supervisor was called in, assessed the situation, and sent the guy packing, then the correct end result occurred.

I also would ask how much fraud occurs? Is this a big problem? If so, tackle that problem but leave the people alone who need welfare. Don't assume every person is out to defraud the State. I might add, just as we have a group of "new rich" we also have a group of "new poor." People who own a Lexus and show up at a food bank is not so uncommon. I would like to think that person who can afford a Lexus in good times would not be going to a food bank unless they absolutely had to. So, let's cut people a little slack here. Times have been difficult for many across all income levels.

These conservative groups always seem to claim they have Jesus on their side. Their actions are far from what this atheist would ever call charitable. Sure, find the fraud but show some compassion.

 's picture

ransom

Call the clownishly edited video exactly what it is: a ransom note. Carving up 49 minutes of video into 2 minutes is on par with tearing pages out of a magazine, cutting them into individual words, and creating a ransom note. And, for hilarity, the MHPC is using the video to raise money!

Jason Theriault's picture

Yes and no

Their is a fine line here, but since he didn't receive benefits, he's probably in the clear on that.

However, I saw nothing refuting that he has unreported income or a side drug smuggling business. He probably should be audited and have his home searched.

Just to be sure.

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