AUGUSTA, Maine — A long-delayed meeting between Democratic legislative leaders and Republican Gov. Paul LePage on Thursday focused on the canceled Alexander Group contract and problems between the federal government and Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta, two issues that have been simmering controversies for months.
Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick said the governor made clear he will not attempt to recoup money paid to the Alexander Group and said his administration is intent on seeing Riverview be recertified by the federal government.
LePage scuttled the canceled $925,000 Alexander Group study on reforming Maine’s social service programs after it came to light that portions of the study were plagiarized. Democrats have long called for a total refund of payments made to the Alexander Group.
The state paid the group $474,760 for the early phases of the study. About $239,000 of that payment was state funds, and the rest of the payments came from federal Medicaid and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds. The state recouped $27,000 from the group when the contract was canceled.
Eves and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, said LePage told legislative leaders Thursday the Alexander Group probably doesn’t have the ability to repay the state because of damage to its reputation from the contract with Maine, even if the state were to pursue a full refund.
“I think the governor was sort of thinking out loud that even if we were able to get the judgment, the ability to collect on the judgment might be in question,” Fredette said.
Eves said he and Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, tried to convince LePage to rethink his position on the contract, “but at the end of the day, we were at different places.”
“There’s going to be no effort to get that half a million dollars back,” Eaves said.
“We put in a bill to try to do that, but it was vetoed and the Republicans in the Legislature chose to stand with the governor on that,” Eves said. “I’m certain that if we were in session today the Republicans would stand with the governor again. … There’s not too much we can do at this point, and that’s frustrating.”
LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said LePage viewed the Democrats’ continued focus on the Alexander Group issue as politically motivated. She said LePage was unable to talk with the BDN early Thursday afternoon because he was traveling.
“It’s a moot issue at this point, and we’re moving forward,” Bennett said. “We understand that there were some missteps regarding that contract, but we’re moving forward.”
Much of the rest of the nearly hour-long meeting focused on Riverview. The Department of Health and Human Services is working to have the state-run hospital reaccredited. At risk is some $20 million a year in federal funding that is contingent on recertification.
Last month, LePage suggested the state stop its efforts to gain federal reaccreditation. However, Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew said a day later there was never any serious consideration given to abandoning reaccreditation efforts.
“The governor continued to express confidence that things are going to end well [with Riverview and the federal government],” Eves said. “They say that every time there’s another scathing report from [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services]. I do not share the confidence that the governor and commissioner have about that. I’m very concerned about patient safety and clinical treatment and very concerned about the potential loss of $20 million in federal funding.”
Eves’ reaction to the meeting echoes a common complaint from Democrats about LePage. Throughout much of this year’s legislative session and as the gubernatorial campaign has accelerated, Democrats have blasted LePage for what they label “mismanagement” of government agencies, most notably the Department of Health and Human Services.
LePage and other Republicans have countered by saying Democrats, who hold majorities in both branches of the Legislature, repeatedly obstructed his attempts to reform the state’s welfare system. The Republican governor also has regularly sparred with Obama administration officials over health and social services policies, arguing federal mandates interfere with the state’s ability to administer programs in a way he believes would be more business-like and effective.
Fredette said he sees the questions from Eves and Alfond about the Alexander Group as “legitimate” but said pushing the governor on the problems at Riverview was politically motivated.
“The issues at Riverview, in a campaign season, can get politicized, and I think at this point in time it’s not a great time to talk about that,” Fredette said. “Everyone recognizes that we have a lot of work to do.”