Janet Mills

Maine Gov. Janet Mills has ordered a full audit of MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program.

The review will look into everything from where money is being spent to whether particular programs are effective.

About a third of all state spending goes through the Medicaid program. It may get close to $3 billion in the current budget year. Mills, a Democrat who in January succeeded two-term Republican Gov. Paul LePage, said she wants a thorough study of where the money is going and if it is being spent effectively.

“When you read the reports that show a surplus in Medicaid of $37 million as of last July, you gotta wonder where was that money supposed to go? If it was for very needy people or elderly in nursing homes and the like, why did it not go there?” she said.

Mills said her new DHHS commissioner, Jeanne Lambrew, is a national expert on Medicaid and health reform, and will drill down in the Medicaid budget in search of answers to these questions.

The federal government provides more than 60 percent of the state’s Medicaid costs, and state taxpayers pay the rest. Mills said those hundreds of millions of dollars must be spent wisely.

“My priority is to make sure the people of Maine are served well and efficiently in a cost-effective manner and that the money taxpayers cough up to fund these programs are well spent,” she said.

The audit has drawn broad bipartisan support. Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, previously served on the Health and Human Services Committee and is co-chair of the Appropriations Committee. He said there has been a lack of transparency in the Medicaid program for years.

“The more we can do to try and understand how that money is being spent and whether it’s being spent as effectively as possible is going be critical for us moving forward in meeting a lot of unmet needs in DHHS,” he said.

Gattine says that there are scores of programs under Medicaid that are all funded under a single budget entry.

Republicans in Augusta also support the audit.

“It is something that ought to be done,” said Sen. Jim Hamper, R-Oxford, who serves on the Appropriations Committee and served as co-chair during the last session. “There are problems in any government program, my goodness, and that includes DHHS. That’s a large department, and yes, we need to look at it.”

Hamper said while he is hopeful that the audit will provide more information about the Medicaid budget and program effectiveness, he said that sort of detailed information will likely not be available to the committee as it sets out to craft a budget this year.

Gattine is more optimistic that the review will help inform the panel and its work.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.