Edgar Allen Beem argues in his recent column (“The Universal Notebook: The Pope, the GOP, and the poor”) that the Department of Health and Human Services shouldn’t confront welfare fraud because there isn’t enough fraud and abuse to make it worthwhile.
Maine DHHS’s anti-fraud efforts identify millions in recoupments annually, and even if these efforts did not pay for themselves, you cannot put a price on deterrence, nor can you put a price on standing up on principle.
Additionally, Beem got his facts wrong. He complains that DHHS “only referred 16 cases for prosecution over the past three years.” He is actually referring to just one very specific type of fraud – criminal Medicaid provider fraud – and one unit within DHHS. That number fails to include the 3,193 Medicaid provider fraud referrals made by our licensing division.
The Medicaid unit Beem references also finalized 263 civil cases worth $10 million in recoupments last year. DHHS investigators have prepared and referred 83 cases of consumer criminal welfare fraud to the attorney general for prosecution so far this year alone, representing nearly $933,000 in benefits theft.
Under Gov. LePage, these prosecution referrals are up tenfold since the previous administration. And that doesn’t even include the 409 non-criminal program violations we have uncovered so far this year, worth more than $1.36 million.
The welfare programs this department manages are critical safety net programs for the people of Maine. Guarding against fraud and abuse is essential for effective stewardship of the hundreds of millions of dollars spent annually to the benefit both of those in need and the taxpayer.
Mary C. Mayhew, commissioner
Maine Department of Health and Human Services