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Expert: MaineToday Media skewed my Medicaid comments

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A policy expert with the National Association of Medicaid Directors (NAMD) has accused a MaineToday Media reporter of inaccurately portraying her comments in order to support his own opinions about Maine’s Medicaid transportation program.

“I’m writing to correct the portrayal of my comments to Mr. Joe Lawlor related to his article published August 13th in the Kennebec Journal on Medicaid transportation in Maine,” Kathleen Nolan, director of state policy and programs for NAMD, wrote in an Aug. 15 letter to MaineToday Media Editorial Writer Greg Kesich and Editor Cliff Schechtman.

A copy of the letter was obtained by The Maine Wire following an anonymous tip.

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In Lawlor’s story, which has yet to be corrected as of Thursday afternoon, he wrote that Rep. Richard R. Farnsworth (D-Portland) was doubting whether the state needed to overhaul the Medicaid transportation program because of “comments made Monday to the Portland Press Herald by a national Medicaid expert.”

That expert, however, is now claiming that Lawlor butchered her comments in order to support his predetermined conclusion.

“I’m deeply concerned that the way Mr. Lawlor characterized my comments is both inaccurate and inflammatory,” Nolan wrote.

“It appears that the reporter was cherry-picking my remarks to fit his personal hypothesis that the state had acted in error.”

The MaineToday Media papers include the Kennebec Journal, the Portland Press Herald, and the Waterville-based Morning Sentinel. The company is owned by S. Donald Sussman, a billionaire Democrat who finances many left-wing organizations in Maine and is married to Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree.

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Here is the full text of Lawlor’s letter, which as of Thursday afternoon has not been published:

To Mr. Greg Kesich and Mr. Cliff Schechtman:

I’m writing to correct the portrayal of my comments to Mr. Joe Lawlor related to his article published August 13th in the Kennebec Journal on Medicaid transportation in Maine.  I’m deeply concerned that the way Mr. Lawlor characterized my comments is both inaccurate and inflammatory. It appears that the reporter was cherry-picking my remarks to fit his personal hypothesis that the state had acted in error.

The first specific concern is that I discussed national trends in state support for medical transportation, and specifically stated that I had no prior knowledge of conversations between Maine and the federal government on this issue. This was taken by Mr. Lawlor to support his contention that Maine had not been “mandated” to make changes, and was therefore acting needlessly.

Secondly, my comments were skewed to make it seem that Maine’s use of out-of-state brokers is unusual and out of alignment with other states. This is patently false. I was very clear that while states handle this service in different ways, many states do use brokers in this fashion.  In fact, the only component of Maine’s program I portrayed as being unusual and out of the ordinary compared with other states was the old system, which appeared to be working without contracts or accountability.

Finally, in speaking with Mr. Lawlor, I was clear that this is a challenging service area that many states struggle to conduct in a fiscally responsible manner.  Non-emergency medical transportation is vital, but also expensive, complicated, and vulnerable to fraud and abuse if not closely managed.  Maine’s efforts appear no different than any other state with respect to the challenges of providing this service to Medicaid beneficiaries in a way that meets the requirements of federal regulations and is cost-effective.

An attempt to contact Lawlor for this story was unsuccessful.

“Reporters are human,” said Maine media critic Al Diamon, who writes the popular Media Mutt column.

“I think that the argument that quotes are taken out of context is a frequent complaint, but it’s also frequent claim made by people who did not think carefully about their comments.”

In case where sources believe they have been misquoted, he said the best practice is to review any notes or recordings taken during the interview and, if necessary, print a clarification.

S.E. Robinson
Maine Wire Reporter
serobinson@themainewire.com

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