AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage has long opposed using state assistance for a group of people he often mischaracterizes as "illegal aliens." And during a town hall meeting Tuesday night in Bucksport, the governor offered up another example of what he says is welfare fraud being committed by a noncitizen.
He said it illustrates why the state must work harder to protect taxpayers.
The meeting had just gotten underway when the governor was asked about the arrival of immigrants in the state. LePage responded by offering an example of why he says Maine is going broke trying to pay for them.
"I won't say the hospital because you'll recognize it, but a hospital in Maine," LePage says. "A lady came in for the third time to give birth to a third baby, she has given birth to three babies in five years."
And LePage says this woman is anything but a typical Mainer.
"She comes over when she's about 6 1/2 to 7 months pregnant," LePage says. "Gets on the dole as we call it and then she gives the birth. She stays about four or five days after to make sure everything's OK — gets on a plane and goes back to the Middle East."
Where in the Middle East — or why the woman would have taken a round trip flight to Maine for the purposes of giving birth — was unexplained by the governor. So was the origin of the story.
LePage did make clear who is getting the bill for the deliveries as well the fact that he is addressing the situation — a statement that prompted a round of applause from many in the Bucksport audience.
"I finally got the information, so it won't happen a fourth time I guarantee you that and this time, the first time, the state paid for the birth, the second time the state paid for the birth and right now we're refusing to pay for the third birth because I have taken money away from the elderly, the disabled and the mentally ill to pay for those folks — so I am all in," LePage says.
A representative of the Maine Hospital Association said his organization could not comment on the governor's remarks but the Maine Peoples Alliance, a progressive group that advocates for members of the state's immigrant community, says LePage's anecdote is difficult to believe.
"He has lied dozens of times at these town halls and it's been well-documented, just blatant lies," says Mike Tipping, the MPA's communications director. "I think this is another unfortunate example of the governor attacking immigrants in a really unfortunate way, and the reason he is doing that is to distract attention from his own economic failings as governor and really trying to blame someone else."
Rep. Drew Gattine, a Democrat from Westbrook and the House chairman of the Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee, says the idea that a person would travel to Maine from halfway around the world to have a child with the intention of not paying for those costs doesn't seem to make sense from an economic perspective.
But more importantly, Gattine says, if such a scenario did take place, the state would probably not be getting the bill.
"Our MaineCare program does not pay for immigrant health care or for noncitizens, so I don't understand the scenario that he's describing of a person coming here 6 1/2 months pregnant so that they could qualify for that kind of public assistance," he says.
"Rep. Gattine is wrong about many things when it comes to DHHS — and this is one of them," says David Sorensen, communications director for the state Department of Health and Human Services.
He says the department cannot comment on individual cases because of confidentiality restrictions, but Sorensen says the governor's conclusions — about who could potentially be stuck with the bill when a person who is visiting the state gives birth to a child and than leaves almost immediately — are correct.
"Certainly there could be a situation where Medicaid is required to reimburse for a childbirth of either an undocumented or documented alien," Sorensen says.
Sen. Eric Brakey, a Republican from Auburn who is the Senate chairman of the Legislature's HHS committee, says he is not familiar with the details of the case, but he says it is emblematic of a larger issue facing Maine and the nation.
"It's a very real problem that we have," Brakey says. "You cannot have open borders and a welfare state. If you have that, then you just open the path for everyone to come here for the purpose of receiving welfare benefits and that's going to bankrupt this country."
The governor did not mention any specific legislative action he would like to see taken to restrict state-funded medical services for immigrants who are legally present in Maine. But at least one lobbyist hinted that some type of proposal could be in the works.