Saturday, March 8, 2014
AUGUSTA — House Speaker Mark Eves’ job with a behavioral health care organization and his advocacy for Medicaid expansion don’t constitute a conflict of interest, according to an advisory opinion by the state ethics commission.
In an opinion released Tuesday, Jonathan Wayne, director of the commission, wrote that there is no evidence that Eves, the business development director for Sweetser, would benefit financially if the Legislature expanded Medicaid, the public insurance program for the poor.
Eves, a Democrat from North Berwick, was asked recently to recuse himself from the expansion debate in a letter signed by 26 House Republicans.
Eves, whose job for Sweetser is to coordinate clients’ care with doctors and nurses, has said he would get no financial benefit from Medicaid expansion. He is on a leave of absence from Sweetser but will resume work there after the legislative session.
Speculation about a conflict has circulated for more than a year, but no elected official put his name to the allegations until the Republican lawmakers held a news conference and sent the letter two weeks ago. No member of the Republican leadership signed the letter.
Republican lawmakers who did not sign the letter have said the allegations are without merit. Nonetheless, Eves asked the ethics commission for an advisory opinion on Feb. 16.
In the response released Tuesday, Wayne said Medicaid expansion would broadly affect the state’s health care industry, including hospitals, physical therapists and doctors, with all receiving some level of Medicaid reimbursement payments. While Medicaid payments may benefit health care providers, Wayne said, there is no evidence that individual employees such as Eves would gain financially.
Wayne said Eves’ job and advocacy for Medicaid expansion do not constitute a conflict as defined by Maine law “because of the broad effect of the proposed legislation on health care providers in Maine generally and the lack of any personal benefit to you.”
Several of the Republicans who alleged the conflict said Sweetser will get a windfall if Medicaid expands. Wayne, who interviewed Sweester CEO Carlton D. Pendleton before writing the advisory opinion, wrote that the organization is not projecting any large increase in revenue if expansion is enacted. Wayne also noted that the reimbursement payments would be spread across 200 agencies that provide similar or identical services as Sweetser.
Many members of Maine’s part-time, citizen legislature have jobs or interests that intersect with public policy that they vote on or propose. Many of the lawmakers’ jobs help determine their committee assignments. For example, at least four lawyers are now on the Judiciary Committee, five farmers are on the Agriculture Committee and five doctors or insurance industry employees serve on the Insurance and Financial Affairs Committee.
Many potential conflicts are either ignored or unknown. The Center for Public Integrity has repeatedly given Maine low grades for its poor disclosure of lawmakers’ financial interests.
Conflict allegations usually accompany divisive issues. The allegations against Eves became public as the Legislature approached decisive votes on Medicaid expansion, one of the more politically divisive proposals of the current session.
“My advocacy for health care has always been motivated by the people whose lives will change because they will be able to see a doctor for the first time or get life-saving care,” Eves said in a prepared statement. “I’ve been so grateful to have such strong support from both sides of the aisle, as desperate opponents of health care have made unfounded allegations against me.”
Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at: