October 21, 2011

LePage has eyes on welfare abuse

At town hall forum, Skowhegan woman also asks governor about Vietnam

By Susan M. Cover scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

THORNDIKE -- Gov. Paul LePage said Thursday at his monthly town hall that his administration is considering new ways to tackle welfare abuse, including hiring private investigators or putting the attorney general in charge of the welfare fraud division.

click image to enlarge

TOWN HALL: Gov. Paul LePage, center, takes questions from the audience Thursday night during a town hall-style meeting at Mount View High School in Thorndike Thursday. The event was part of his continuing Capitol for a Day tour of the state. Seated next to Gov. LePage is state treasurer Bruce Poliquin.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

And he took a tough question about why he did not serve in Vietnam.

During a town hall in Waldo County, LePage took a question from a woman who identified herself as a Democrat, but asked why the Republican governor hasn't done more to crack down on Medicaid fraud.

"You haven't seen it happening because we are in the process of doing it," LePage said.

The administration is in the process of evaluating options for handling welfare fraud. It may stay with the state Department of Health and Human Services, and LePage said he will have a firm recommendation early next year.

"It's a monster of a program," he said, noting that 330,000 Mainers get Medicaid benefits.

LePage took a difficult question about midway through the program when Catherine Burns of Skowhegan, who said her son Sgt. Brett Pelotte died of a heart attack while on active military duty in 2003, asked the governor why he didn't serve in Vietnam.

She asked why he moved to Canada after he finished college at Husson University.

"I did not go to Canada because of the draft," he said. "My lottery number was 342. If you look at the selective service system, in 1969, when I was a sophomore in college, President Richard Nixon changed the draft system to a lottery system. We all got a number based on your birthday."

He said his birthday, October 9, was 342. "I went to Canada because I married my college sweetheart. I am very sorry you lost your son," he said.

LePage went on to say that during antiwar protests at Husson, he supported the military.

"I was pro-military all the way, even back then," he said, drawing applause from the audience.

As she walked out of the auditorium, Burns, who was wearing a 61 percent sticker indicating she supports a group that opposes LePage, yelled that he was a phony.

The town hall was LePage's ninth this year. He started his tour in southern Maine in February and has been to a different county each month since.

About 200 people came to the Mount View High School auditorium for the town hall, which included six of LePage's cabinet members and Treasurer Bruce Poliquin.

Another tough question came from a man who said he has had to increase the care for his Down syndrome daughter who is in her 30s because the state doesn't provide enough help. He said he moved to Maine from Ohio, where she was able to work in the community with supported services.

Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew said she's working to find money for these types of programs.

"Those waiting lists are a crime," she said. "We truly are committed to identifying resources to reduce those waiting lists."

Another questioner wanted to know if the state would be investigating other agencies to look for ways to save money.

Treasurer Bruce Poliquin said the governor has not reappointed the same members to the MaineHousing board of directors and that the state has taken steps to reduce costs at the agency. Earlier this week, a legislative committee voted to conduct a review of programs and spending at MaineHousing.

"The good news ma'am is we have adults involved," Poliquin said. "The cavalry has arrived."

Susan Cover -- 620-7015


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