Gov. LePage seeks new DHHS positions to investigate misuse of benefits

AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul Le­Page has submitted another late-session bill designed to further crack down on the misuse of public benefits in Maine.

LD 1888 would add eight new fraud investigator positions to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Family Independence. It also would make the the unauthorized transfer or possession of electronic benefit transfer, or EBT, cards a Class D crime and would prohibit the use of EBT cards at liquor stores, gambling facilities and adult entertainment businesses.

EBT cards are used by recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, assistance, also known as food stamps, but the bill addresses other welfare programs, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF.

Asked why the proposal was not included in the governor’s recent supplemental budget or a plan to restructure the Department of Health and Human Services, LePage’s spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said LD 1888 was a policy bill rather than a budget bill.

However, the governor’s $37 million supplemental budget that faces public hearings this week contains a number of nonbudget-related policy initiatives.

Either way, LD 1888 would have to go to the Appropriations Committee because it would increase the DHHS budget by about $675,000 for the 2012-13 fiscal year.

Members of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee are expected to hold a public hearing on the bill Wednesday.

Since he was elected, Gov. LePage has talked often about how Maine’s welfare system had encouraged dependency and complacency. Last summer, the governor created a Fraud and Abuse Prevention Team to help identify ways to combat the problem of welfare abuse.

The nine-member team, made up of members of the Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of the Attorney General, was given two charges: To identify fraud before it happens and to make sure all cases of potentially illegal activity are properly investigated.

Herb Downs, who has chaired that team, said Monday that the number of fraud and abuse referrals has doubled over the past year, from 1,200 to about 2,400.

LD 1888, he said, grew out of discussion by that task force.

Critics, such as Sara Gagne-Holmes of Maine Equal Justice Partners, see the bill as the latest attempt by an administration that seems intent on singling out poor people.

“Each obstacle you put in someone’s way and each time you stigmatize, the program hurts people,” she said.

John Martins, spokesman for DHHS, said the goal is not to stigmatize those who are receiving public assistance but to better educate them and to deter those who seek to abuse the system.

He said increased awareness and media coverage of high-profile fraud cases has contributed to the surge in referrals and the need for more investigators. Martins did not have the number of cases that have resulted in convictions.

But Gagne-Holmes said the high number means nothing.

“It means there are a lot of people who are economically insecure who don’t want to see people frauding the system,” she said.

Gagne-Holmes said another piece of the bill bothers her as well. Currently, recipients of TANF or food stamps can be held liable if they receive overpayment of benefits.

The governor’s bill would apply that liability to MaineCare.

“How do you pay it back? It’s health care,” Gagne-Holmes said.

Gov. LePage has been a vocal critic of many public assistance programs and has pushed policy proposals to tighten what he sees as an overly generous system. So far, he has capped limits on TANF, reduced eligibility for MaineCare and tried twice to cut the state’s share of general assistance to communities.

Last November, the governor also indicated he would submit legislation that would require welfare recipients to submit to random drug testing.

On Monday, though, Bennett said it was not likely that bill would come up until next year.

Others states have passed laws instituting drug testing for welfare recipients but there have been questions about the constitutionality of such laws.

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Steve  Dosh's picture

Gov. LePage seeks new DHHS positions to investigate misuse . ..

Hmmm , 12.03.20 5 pm - ish hst •
Doesn't trust his own staff , huh ? That's what Attoney Generals & Inspector Generals are for , Honorable Governor . Use them . No need for more politically appointed & salaried positions . You may find that the savings you inagine you will get from supposed welfare fraud are - i l l u s o r y - ( non - existent )
Theres always the Feds , too . They do this for a living , also • h t h , /s Steve Dosh

Jeff Johnson's picture

"Critics, such as Sara

"Critics, such as Sara Gagne-Holmes of Maine Equal Justice Partners, see the bill as the latest attempt by an administration that seems intent on singling out poor people."

Yes, singling out "poor people" because "rich people" don't use the MaineCare system, or have EBT cards.

$675,000 well spent. I'm willing to wager theyt'll uncover more than that amount in fraud.

 's picture

So much for the truth

"....not to stigmatize those who are receiving public assistance but to better educate them.... You do not hire auditors or fraud investigators to "educate" anyone.
referrals are going up because you have a group of politically inspired idealogs who hate poor people that are trying to make a case to injure the poor.
The documentation has been in for a long time. The priority in waste and fraud cases in welfare programs is the providers of good and services who like I believe its the current speaker defraud the government to the tune of millions.
I would approve this new hiring as long as the job descriptions require them to investigate fraud by providers.

 's picture

Misusing the MaineCare System

If you want to reduce the spending for MaineCare, perhaps you should look at what our medical providers are forcing on their clients. For example, when people have certain prescription medications, known for having a fairly high potential for abuse (Schedule I & II Meds), in order to continue having these prescriptions written people MUST sign contractual agreements with their medical providers. This is an effort to reduce misuse of prescription meds. Do some people abuse their meds? Yes, indeed they do. Some people take too many or use them in ways which are not based on recovery. There are no differences in the statistics however between the percentage of people on MaineCare and those with private insurance, and the uninsured regarding the amount of the population who abuse the drugs. In other words, the same percentage of Mainecare recipients abuse the drugs as all others.

I do NOT have MaineCare coverage and I am on one of these meds. I've been on it for 6 years now. The difference this medication has made in my life is indescribable. In the entire time I have been on this med, I have NEVER requested an early refill, never asked for more due to my dog eating it, never switched between pharmacies, and have not changed doctors. Imagine my surprise when I was told in order to continue receiving my prescription for this drug I would have to provide a Urine sample for drug testing. I complied and filled the bottle. Then asked how much this test would cost. I was told the test would be $600.00! I do NOT have medical insurance. This is a true burden to people - and it should not matter if you have medical insurance, private or state funded - this is a ridiculous cost for anyone.

I completely understand why you may wish to do a random drug test IF someone has been asking for early refills, or "doctor or pharmacy shopping." So If you want to find the waste in Mainecare spending, I would suggest a fact finding audit on Mainecare to discover just how much money is spent each year on these wasteful drug tests. I would like to know how much of my tax dollar is spent testing people who have given no reason to be suspected of misuse. So Governor LePage I urge you to put this on your "List" of things to be looking into.

 's picture

Schedule 1 drugs have no

Schedule 1 drugs have no medical use and are not prescribed, as defined by federal law.

Bob Deschenes's picture

New position

Guess he's got another relative that needs a job.

 's picture

The problem is with the legal

The problem is with the legal definition of fraud vs what the common person calls fraud. It would be more accurate to use the term "misuse" What is really needed are case workers assigned to high use patients to help them manage their use. Too many end up in ED's for non-emergent reasons that can and should be handled by their PCP.


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