- Associated Press - Thursday, May 15, 2014

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Maine should seek a waiver from the federal government that will provide it the flexibility to overhaul its Medicaid program, a group hired by Gov. Paul LePage’s administration concluded in a report released Thursday.

The more than 200-page document from the Alexander Group, led by the former welfare chief of Rhode Island and Pennsylvania, details dozens of recommendations for transforming Maine’s Medicaid and welfare programs, including that the state seek a waiver to allow it to “create and manage a Medicaid program that is consistent with the state’s needs and culture.”

“Without reforms across the entire enterprise, MaineCare’s ability to serve the most vulnerable populations - namely the intellectually disabled and indigent elderly - stands at risk, even as more and more of the able-bodied population are added to the caseload,” the report said.

The Republican governor's administration’s awarding of the group’s no-bid contract has come under fire from Democrats who say the reports are merely being used as political campaign fodder and that, at nearly $1 million, are a waste of taxpayer dollars.

The group released its first document in January, which concluded that expanding Medicaid would cost the state more than $800 million over the next decade. LePage and GOP lawmakers relied heavily on that estimate as they fought off several expansion proposals last session. But Democrats say the arrangement is deeply flawed.

“The taxpayers of Maine should be outraged. Gov. LePage has taken their money and used it to buy tea party talking points, not solutions,” Democrat Sen. Margaret Craven of Lewiston said in a statement. “Maine needs jobs, not more fodder for the governor’s attacks on the poor.”

The administration didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the latest report.

It contends that growth in the Medicaid program is unsustainable and will represent more than 40 percent of the total budget by 2023. A waiver, like the one Rhode Island successfully captured in 2009, will assure “the sustainability of MaineCare for years to come,” it says.

Other recommendations include proposals already introduced by LePage and rejected by the Democratic-led Legislature. Among them is a proposed limit on how much the state reimburses cities and towns to help run their local welfare programs. Municipal officials said that would cause property taxes to spike.

Other recommendations include eliminating exemptions that allow people to receive welfare benefits without participating in an education and work program and requiring welfare applicants to show they’ve searched for jobs before they receive benefits.

LePage introduced a bill last session that would have required applicants to prove they’ve applied for at least three jobs before getting assistance. The measure was defeated by Democrats, who said it would make it harder for people who are struggling to get the help they need.

___

Follow Alanna Durkin on Twitter at http://www.twitter