EDITORIALS

LePage has canceled Alexander contract, but the damage is done

Posted June 16, 2014, at 12:27 p.m.
Gary Alexander presents his Medicaid expansion study on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, at the Department of Health and Human Services office building in Augusta.
A.J. Higgins | MPBN
Gary Alexander presents his Medicaid expansion study on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, at the Department of Health and Human Services office building in Augusta.
Gov. Paul LePage discusses his welfare reform proposals on Monday, March 24.
Scott Thistle | Sun Journal
Gov. Paul LePage discusses his welfare reform proposals on Monday, March 24.

Gov. Paul LePage’s administration has finally given into reality.

On Thursday, the state Department of Health and Human Services finally canceled its $925,000, no-bid contract with the Alexander Group, the discredited consultancy that produced two ideology-driven documents opposing an expansion of Medicaid and promoting LePage’s favored welfare “reforms.”

Five months after it became obvious that the consulting firm led by Gary Alexander had turned out exceptionally shoddy work, the LePage administration finally made the right — albeit well overdue — move in cutting off its relationship with the organization.

We’re pleased that the Alexander Group will produce no additional work for the state and will see no further payment from Maine taxpayers. The firm will even have to pay a $27,000 penalty.

The cancellation of the firm’s contract, however, does not make this episode right. The Alexander Group will still record $475,000 in income when all is said and done, including $236,000 in federal funds that have been potentially misused. And it’s disturbing that the Department of Health and Human Services determined there was some redeeming value in the work produced by Alexander.

Even disregarding the fact that the Alexander Group plagiarized much of its work from credible sources, we have failed from the start to see any value in the firm’s work.

The group’s first report, supposedly a study of the feasibility of expanding Maine’s Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act, fell far short of actually determining the feasibility of expanding Medicaid. The consultants calculated only the cost of expansion using a suspect methodology that inflated the final price tag — one of the group’s calculations was $575 million too high, the result of a math error — without considering any effects that offset the cost. It was a document grounded in ideology rather than the analysis the state needed.

In a January interview, Alexander and colleague Eric Randolph explained away many of the report’s shortcomings — a lack of analysis of Medicaid expansion’s economic impact, for example, or a failure to consider the net financial benefit to Maine’s hospitals — by saying it was too difficult to include those factors in the analysis.

The group’s second report recommended changes that LePage himself had already proposed for Maine’s welfare programs and the Legislature had already rejected. The document, which was submitted five months after its deadline, lacked sound reasoning to back up its suggestions.

LePage last week blamed a poorly written contract for the Alexander Group debacle. But this episode is about more than a poorly written contract, and it’s not about a failed state contracting process. The overriding flaw was the LePage administration’s decision to seek this work in the first place.

Maine state government pulls off numerous competitively bid contracts each year without blunders like this one. Expertise for effectively awarding contracts already exists in Maine government. That that expertise and established processes weren’t applied to this no-bid contract speaks volumes about the desire for this administration to develop a political manifesto on the taxpayer’s dime.

The cancellation of the Alexander Group contract should take a substantial chunk out of any platform LePage plans to use to run for re-election. But this episode has already caused sufficient damage. The consultant’s Medicaid expansion document, after all, formed the basis for Republican talking points against the expansion.

The Alexander Group will suffer damage to its credibility not just because of plagiarism and faulty analysis but because it hindered an honest public policy discussion in Maine.

 

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