Friday, March 7, 2014
Some Democrats in Augusta are acting as if they are afraid of what might be in the Alexander Group report on Maine’s social service systems. They shouldn’t be.
The first take of the nearly million-dollar study that argued against expanding Medicaid was riddled with errors and ridiculous assumptions. It predicted a 33 percent growth in the poverty rate by 2020, and its calculations included a $575 million accounting error found by an independent health care expert. The no-bid contract for the study was awarded to Gary Alexander, a tea-party favorite, who had a short and unproductive run as head of Pennsylvania’s public welfare agency. The study appears to be nothing more than previously failed ideas repackaged as talking points for Gov. Paul LePage’s re-election campaign.
Democratic lawmakers, however, said this week that they were putting together a bill that would nullify the contract and keep much of the $925,000 that was supposed to go to the Alexander Group of Providence, R.I.
That would be a big mistake.
The report, how it was commissioned and how much it costs are outrageous, but refusing to pay a bill for work that was legally contracted is the wrong way to respond, and attacking the Alexander report on process is the wrong fight to have when there is so much wrong with it on its merits.
If Alexander’s work is as shoddy as what we saw in the first installment, the right way to attack will be on its substance. If he recommends the same kinds of solutions for Maine that he has tried elsewhere, Democrats should stand up and point out how poorly his ideas have worked in other states.
Alexander tried to “reform” Pennsylvania’s welfare system by stripping health insurance from 89,000 children, and his management of Pennsylvania’s home health care service contract could cost the state $7 million a year, according to that state’s auditor. Before that, Alexander had a similar post in his home state, where his Republican governor worked a sweetheart deal on the very last day of the Bush administration that gave the state a “global waiver” to run its Medicaid program.
Since leaving Rhode Island, Alexander has advised other states with which he has worked to apply for the same kind of waiver. It is probably what Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew means when she says that he is an expert in giving state’s flexibility on federal rules.
If Alexander makes the same recommendation here, Democrats will have a lot to work with. The Rhode Island waiver is a mirage in which the state spent more money on Medicaid, not less. The only way to make it look as if the state saved money is to pretend that there was no influx of federal funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which went to all 50 states, not just Rhode Island.
LePage and Mayhew already tried to get a global waiver last year in exchange for expanding MaineCare eligibility, and the federal government turned them down flat. If asking for a global waiver is the big idea that cost the state nearly a million dollars, they will have a lot to answer for.
But not if the Democrats make this a fight about killing the report instead of exposing it as intellectually bankrupt. From what we have seen so far, it’s the administration that should be afraid of what it might say.