LePage stands by MaineCare cuts, asks to oversee MaineHousing

Robert F. Bukaty, Bangor Daily News

Gov. Paul LePage speaks at a news conference, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011, at the State House in Augusta, Maine. He said that he's proposing the cuts to Medicaid because the state is not taking in enough tax revenues to continue to support the program.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage reiterated the need for a sweeping overhaul of MaineCare at the State House on Thursday, while elsewhere in the building scores of opponents testified before lawmakers for a second day.

At a public hearing on the governor’s proposed cuts to MaineCare, many spoke out against planned funding rollbacks for mental health services and substance abuse programs, as well as a loss of benefits for some low-income adults. A handful of supporters stepped to the podium in favor of the reforms.

Others, including the advocacy group Maine Equal Justice Partners, questioned the proposal’s legality, saying it violates a key provision of the federal Affordable Care Act. The provision essentially prohibits states from making it more difficult to enroll in Medicaid, such as through stricter eligibility requirements, as state health insurance exchanges mandated by 2014 are established. MaineCare is the state’s version of the federal Medicaid program.

LePage’s proposal, designed to address an estimated $220 million shortfall in the Department of Health and Human Services budget, calls for tightening eligibility guidelines, eliminating services and repealing coverage for thousands of recipients to bring MaineCare closer to national averages.

At an afternoon press conference, LePage confirmed that his proposal violates the Affordable Care Act provision and said the state will seek a waiver from the federal government. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has instructed LePage to first win legislative approval for his plan, he said.

“I will not get a waiver from the federal government until the Legislature says they want it, and the Legislature says it’s illegal,” LePage said. “Well put me in jail and we’ll go from there.”

His plan is the only way to keep the unsustainable MaineCare program from going broke in the spring, the governor said.

“We actually have more people in the system taking away than we have people putting into the system to pay for the services, and it’s a gap,” he said. “We are far more generous than most other states in the union. And until we recognize that and we spend what we can afford and do the best we can with what we have available, we’re going to continue to have this problem.”

The governor also presented an unconventional remedy for the more than 4,000 people expected to lose housing under his plan. LePage is seeking to save $47 million by eliminating funding for residential facilities for the mentally and physically disabled, known as “private, nonmedical institutions.” If lawmakers award the executive branch more oversight of MaineHousing, the state’s quasi-governmental affordable housing agency, his administration could find ways to offer alternative homes for those affected by the cuts, LePage said.

“I believe that the Legislature has got to give the executive branch a little bit more authority over, or some authority, to work with Maine State Housing,” he said.

State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin, who attended the press conference, recently has sparred with MaineHousing Executive Director Dale McCormick over the agency’s fiscal management. McCormick was appointed by Gov. John Baldacci.

Democrats labeled the press conference a tactic to draw attention away from the public hearings.

“It’s not helpful for the governor to continue to have press conferences and distract from the impact of the budget,” said Rep. Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, the lead Democrat on the Health and Human Services Committee. “He’s trying to manufacture an environment of crisis to push through his agenda.”

LePage also said he will ask the Legislature to fast-track implementation of LD 1333, the state health insurance reform bill that passed earlier this year, and ruled out raising taxes to cover the shortfall, as some public hearing attendees suggested Thursday.

Carol Austin, a health care worker who submitted written testimony, urged lawmakers to target funding for DHHS services that encourage dependency rather than hike taxes.

“These folks get all the benefits and the abuses I see as a health care provider makes me ill,” she wrote. “Please do not vote to increase taxes on those of us at the lower levels while those who do the least get the most.”

Concern about cost-shifting was a common thread throughout the public hearing. Attendees said LePage’s proposal would limit access to basic health services, pushing the needy toward more expensive crisis care.

“The loss of federal matching Medicaid funds will be felt by providers, hospitals and private health care professionals throughout Maine, but particularly in service center communities like Bangor,” said Shawn Yardley, director of health and community services for the city.

Testimony was expected to continue Friday, with lawmakers hearing public comment on the cuts’ impact on the Fund for a Healthy Maine and hospital reimbursements, among other issues.

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Comments

Governors proposed cut backs

As usual Lepage's sensitivity to the plight of the less fortunate comes up short What a scrooge you notice that he isn't missing any meal!

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

Politics

As I suspected the numbers have been exaggerated so that the governor can get a waiver from the National Health Care Law. It's all politics. Maybe it could also be useful for a power grab with the Housing Authority. This is mainly about the 2012 election and Republican tactics to beat Obama and has nothing to do with balancing the budget. The governor deliberately underestimated costs by $19 million, ignored other sources of funding, started off by giving tax cuts to people who did not need it and fired everybody who actually knows the real figures . Now he claims huge shortages when in reality he did everything he could to create them and exaggerate them so that he could play politics with the National Health Care Law. Never mind the pain and terror created in the minds of people who are vulnerable,elderly and sick and who are facing the loss of their homes, prescriptions and medical care. I have to wonder how much lower these politicians will sink.

TOM FOURNIER's picture

Governor Lepage

Hooray to Governor Lepage! He has the guts and know-how to get the job done and done right the first time. He's the best governor this state has ever had. I believe he's president material and hope he'll consider running in future. He's cleaning up a big miss that he inherited. The state of Maine is very fortunate to have him as our governor. He's doing what needs to be done, plain and simple. Those who don't appreciate it should consider moving to another state. As for MaineHousing, McCormick has repeatedly demonstrated she's not the right person for the job. Her overspending is a joke. It's a big waste of a lot of money. Governor Lepage should have more authority over the agency, The state will surely benefit from his knowledge and wisdom. The legislature should seriously consider his request.

Bob Woodbury's picture

Another Queen of Hearts solution...

Instead of finding where the fat is and cutting it, cut the whole thing - Off with their head!!!!

Gov. LePage

Gov. LePage is certainly in the wrong business. He is not a people person and has no business being in politics to start with. Furthermore how can people in the U.S. who voted all these republicans in office, expect the U.S. people to bail out the messes that the republicans got us into in the first place. Now they're only playing a blame game. The democrats blame republicans and the republicans blame the democrats. And the college electorate needs to be abolished in all states, to save money as well. Under any republican administration, the "Rich are getting Richer and the poor are getting poorer". It should be only by the actual vote and popular vote by the actual voter that counts.

Fred Stone's picture

People person

Your right he is not a people person and lets hope he doesn't change. He is not a typical politician and that's a good thing.
He is exactly what this state needs someone who is willing to call a spade a spade and to hell with you if you don't like it. This state needs to see some reform soon or were all going down the tubes.
This is not about being a Republican, a Democrat a Green, or any other party it's about what is right for the state.

 's picture

The solution is so simple,

The solution is so simple, but lepage refuses to use it. Simply repeal the massive tax cuts he and his cronies gave the wealthiest among us during the last session. Honestly, if you take over $200 million out of the revenue stream, there's going to be a shortfall. So buck up and bring the wealthy back to the levels they were at. It is so simple.

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