Videos purporting to show ‘explosive evidence’ of fraud fizzle

Posted Aug. 21, 2011, at 9:30 p.m.

These have to be some of the oddest words ever to come from the Maine Heritage Policy Center: “the employee who was secretly filmed by an actor in the Portland DHHS office was obviously very well trained and knowledgeable of Maine’s vast welfare bureaucracy and eligibility requirements.” And, “the employee set an appropriate standard for eligibility, which is conducive to guarding against abuse of scarce welfare funds.”

A week ago, the conservative center, along with Americans for Prosperity-Maine, promised “explosive evidence” of Medicaid fraud. As proof, it offered a heavily edited video that purported to show a Department of Health and Human Services employee suggesting that an applicant not provide details about his income.

In the full version of the video, the worker, and later her supervisor, repeatedly question the individual about the sources of his income and at one point the supervisor accuses him of being evasive in his answers. The man, an actor affiliated with videographer James O’Keefe, who has staged such fake interviews across the country, was denied benefits.

Gov. Paul LePage, who has made rooting out welfare fraud a centerpiece of his tenure, said the video showed that some employees were poorly trained and too much time was wasted. But, it didn’t show “an employee willfully allowing abuse of the welfare system,” the governor said.

Rather than look for real fraud, the conservative groups this week highlighted a second video with even weaker evidence.

There was no press conference, just a late-in-the day press release, which graded the DHHS worker shown in the undercover video shot in Portland.

The explosive conclusion this time? “This latest tape gives us a better perspective of the welfare intake process,” MHPC Chief Executive Officer Lance Dutson said in the release.

The center then gave the employee an A- for training and program knowledge, a D for efficiency, a C for the stewardship of taxpayer resources and D for fraud vulnerability.

From “explosive evidence” to assessing the performance of one DHHS worker is quite a fall in a week.

The Maine Heritage Policy Center has been most helpful in the past when it provided unbiased data that drew attention to real issues that needed attention. It did this through its attention to the Maine Turnpike Authority and its creation of MaineOpenGov.org. It should return to that mode or risk becoming irrelevant.

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