AUGUSTA, Maine — Democrats on the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee introduced a bill Monday that would cancel a nearly $1 million contract signed by Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s administration with a controversial welfare consultant, the Alexander Group.

In September 2013, the LePage administration contracted with the group, headed by former Pennsylvania and Rhode Island welfare chief Gary Alexander, to review Maine’s welfare system. Since then, Democrats have leveled a series of criticisms at Alexander based on his conservative ideology.

Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew called the bill introduced Monday by Democrats “a blatant attempt by partisan lawmakers to discredit a thorough and accurate report from a national Medicaid expert that does not support their political position on Medicaid expansion.”

The bill, which hasn’t been printed and does not yet appear on the Legislature’s website, is being proposed by the Democratic co-chairs of the Health and Human Services Committee. The state has already paid the Alexander Group $185,040 toward the $925,000 contract, according to the Office of Fiscal and Program Review.

“This is just one more in a tragic series of management errors from Gov. LePage that is costing Maine taxpayers lots of money with little positive outcome,” said Rep. Richard Farnsworth, D-Portland, the House chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee, in a written statement. “This kind of mismanagement has got to come to an end and this is where we need to start.”

House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, in a written statement accused Democrats of using the issue to campaign in advance of elections later this year.

“This is what one pundit was talking about when he said Democrats would simply use the Legislature as ‘a soapbox to campaign against the governor’ this year,” said Fredette, referring to a December 2013 article by BDN blogger Matthew Gagnon. “Instead of scoring political points, Democrats should help us find solutions to the countless fiscal and economic problems caused by their decades of one-party rule.”

The Alexander Group released the first phase of its study, a treatise on Medicaid expansion, in January, and is expected to provide other reports on Maine’s welfare program in the coming weeks and months. The study is controversial for many reasons, beginning with the fact that the LePage administration did not use a bid process to award the contract. Then, when the Alexander Group delivered the first phase of the study to DHHS, the administration refused to release it to the public while it was being revised.

The study concludes that expanding Medicaid eligibility, a legislative priority for Democrats, would cost the state $807 million in its first 10 years. An analysis by AARP indicated that the study was flawed and contained a $575 million calculation error in projecting future growth of Medicaid costs, although Gary Alexander said the figures were sound.

Democrats said part of their reasoning for trying to cancel the contract is that the outstanding contract payments could be used to help fill a budget hole in the fiscal year that ends June 30.

“The Alexander report fiasco is yet another example of Gov. LePage’s pattern of mismanagement,” said Sen. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, who is the Senate chairwoman of the Health and Human Services Committee. “His failure to lead and inability to manage are hurting Maine people and Maine’s economy.”

Mayhew took issue with Craven’s statement.

“To portray this bill as an attempt to save the Maine taxpayer money is disingenuous and misrepresentative,” said Mayhew. “There are many additional elements associated with the overall cost of the contract, which when reviewed in totality and compared to other contracts, offer value.”

While leading Rhode Island’s welfare system, Alexander received from former President George W. Bush’s administration a global Medicaid waiver that conservatives have hailed as a means of gaining greater flexibility in managing publicly funded healthcare programs. Mayhew said the consultant’s mission is to find similar benefits for Maine.

“The Alexander Group’s track record on these areas of reform is unsurpassed, especially in helping states gain flexibility within Medicaid in order to use resources to address the unmet needs of those who are elderly, disabled and the state’s most vulnerable,” Mayhew said. “We look forward to our continued relationship with the Alexander Group through the completion of work under this contract.”

Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.