LePage urges lawmakers to address 'economic reality' of DHHS cuts

AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage on Tuesday expressed frustration with the pace and substance of deliberations over his proposed $220 million cuts at the Department of Health and Human Services. 

Paul LePage
Pat Wellenbach

Paul LePage 

In a highly unusual and unscripted move, LePage walked into the tail end of a joint work session between DHHS staff and the Legislature's budgetary and Health and Human Services committees. The governor did not speak during the session, but as lawmakers broke for lunch, he told reporters that legislators had yet to confront the "economic reality" of the current $120 million DHHS shortfall.

"There's economic emotions, economic mobility and economic reality," LePage said. "Many people in Maine have gotten over the economic emotions. They left. They've gone to economic mobility and they've left the state. We are stuck downstairs with economic reality. To hear what I heard today, (lawmakers on the committees) are still in economic emotions."

He added, "Until they get over the emotions and do the hard work of fixing the $120 million shortfall ... we're not going to get anywhere."

The governor, who came in for about 10 minutes of the meeting, indicated he was frustrated with some lawmakers' questions to DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew. She and her staff appeared before lawmakers Tuesday to discuss the governor's DHHS proposal, which has garnered considerable opposition.

"She sits there at the table, answers a gazillion questions and none of them — none of them — will lead to the resolution of this problem," LePage said.

He added, "Some of the questions I was hearing up there, I was choking. At this level, at this late hour, with the problems that this state is facing."

Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, said lawmakers were right to ask questions about sweeping cuts that could hurt as many as 65,000 Mainers. Rotundo said it would be unwise to rubber-stamp LePage's proposal.

"We are a representative democracy, not a dictatorship," Rotundo said. "This is how the process works."

LePage expressed confidence that the state could pressure the federal government to release the state from a provision in the federal health care law that prevents states from cutting certain Medicaid services.

LePage has said the Legislature would have to pass his $220 million in cuts at DHHS before the state can apply for an exemption from the Affordable Care Act provision known as Maintenance of Effort.

Some states have applied for the MOE waiver, but to date the federal Department of Health and Human Services has not granted one.

According to the state DHHS, three of the five Medicaid programs slated for cuts would require waivers from the federal government.

LePage said he had several discussions with U.S. DHHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about receiving a waiver and he felt confident the state would get the federal OK.

"I've had some conversations with the secretary and I just believe that it's not her intent, nor is it the (Obama) administration's intent, to see any state go bankrupt or go broke," he said.

Mayhew said Tuesday that legislative action could pressure the Obama administration to give Maine more flexibility with the MOE waiver. Several states have taken a similar approach. Earlier this year, 33 Republican governors and governors-elect, including LePage, sent a letter to Sebelius requesting more latitude with the MOE for what they described as the federal law's "unconscionable," "one-size-fits-all approach to Medicaid" that could force states to cut other critical state programs, such as education.

National pundits have speculated that the national move by GOP governors is a coordinated political effort to further attack the federal health care law and bloody the Obama administration.

Regardless, the MOE waiver faces significant hurdles, including a recent decision by the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals that some believe reaffirmed the law's intent to grant exemptions only if states are undertaking experimental projects designed to expand health care coverage — not to save money or fill budget gaps.

Democrats on Tuesday cited that decision while questioning Mayhew. She said the DHHS changes requiring federal OK wouldn't go into effect until a waiver was granted.

That answer didn't satisfy Rotundo, who said approving the governor's proposal ahead of the MOE waiver was a gamble.

"Secretary Sebelius has been very clear about the circumstances under which she would grant these waivers," Rotundo said. "We are not talking about those circumstances."

She added, "I think it's very risky. Rolling the dice on the backs of our most frail and vulnerable citizens is not right."

Adrienne Bennett, the governor's spokeswoman, said the governor has expressed all along that he wanted lawmakers to act quickly on the budget shortfall which the administration says is costing the state $12 million a month.

Democrats have expressed consistent opposition to the proposal and have questioned whether the administration's figures are accurate. Despite acknowledging the gap, so far Democrats haven't advanced alternatives to the governor's plan.

Rotundo said her caucus had counterproposals and lawmakers shouldn't be looking at the DHHS exclusively to address the shortfall.

"There are ideas that we'll bring forward," she said. "But it's a false choice that in order to save MaineCare we have to adopt the Draconian proposals that the governor has put forward."

Lawmakers will continue evaluating the governor's proposal during work sessions that continue on Jan. 3.

smistler@sunjournal.com

What do you think of this story?

Login to post comments

Our policy prohibits comments that are:

  • Defamatory, abusive, obscene, racist, or otherwise hateful
  • Excessively foul and/or vulgar
  • Inappropriately sexual
  • Baseless personal attacks or otherwise threatening
  • Contain illegal material, or material that infringes on the rights of others
  • Commercial postings attempting to sell a product/item
If you violate this policy, your comment will be removed and your account may be banned from posting comments.

Advertisement

Comments

RONALD RIML's picture

He

He was chocking???

Obviously not hard enough :(

Clarence Turner's picture

Our Governor

What Gov.Paul LePage is trying to do makes me wonder if he will be re-elected for the next term of office?

Mark Elliott's picture

If you haven't any enemies

If you haven't any enemies then you haven't stood up for something you believe in!

RONALD RIML's picture

And

And that, Mark

Is why I proudly amass so many 'Disagrees'

Mark Elliott's picture

and you've earned every one

and you've earned every one of them.....

Mike Lachance's picture

Well then, thats a good sign

Well then, thats a good sign isnt it?; A Governor who acts on his principles and not just "to try to get re-elected"... LePage is doing the right thing. If Mainers are stupid enough to elect another Baldacci to replace him you can kiss any further economic recovery good-bye.

Mark Brennick's picture

Just came from the store

Just came from the store where two of Maine's most vulnerables were buying their lunch with their Maine State cards.One was in his 40's and the other was in his 30's I see these two along with plenty of others everyday walking around smoking cigs.I salute MR. Lepage for finally trying to stop some of this waste.

RONALD RIML's picture

So

There's hope.

Smoke enough cigs and they won't eat lunch on Maine State cards quite as long......

Jennifer Chretien's picture

Clearly the Mainecare program

Clearly the Mainecare program is unsustainable as it is currently running, I think that is obvious and changes need to happen. I haven't always agreed with everything Gov. LePage has proposed in the past and don't agree with all of the proposed cuts to Mainecare. I do think that the cuts need to be done responsibly. If what I have recently read is correct; that Medicaid/Mainecare was originally created to be a safety net for our most vulnerable, the elderly, children and the disabled, maybe we need to look to making those groups the priority. In the interest of full disclosure, I receive Social Security, Medicare and Mainecare due to a disability. I am extremely grateful for these programs. In the past 3 years I have started working again, only part-time currently 10-13 hours a week, as that is all I can manage at this time. Honestly without the services Mainecare and Medicare provide I wouldn't be able to work right now. I do understand that I may lose some services and that will honestly make things more difficult for me. I struggle to survive month to month and don't honestly know how I would absorb any additional out of pocket expenses. At this point all I can do is send my concerns to the Maine Legislator and tell them what losing those services would mean to me personally. I don't want to lose the progress I have gained and have to stop working because certain services are cut, at the same time I may need to make some sacrifices to help sustain the program as a whole. My sincere hope is that the cuts that are made are responsible and protect those most in need.

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

What shortfall

The governor created this shortfall when he submitted his original budget with errors in the DHHS budget to justify his tax cut. Now he says he has no money for social programs. It's like paying your bills and having leftover money to spend on buying golf clubs without paying your rent. Then you can't afford rent. Right? It's also very suspicious that he seems to be setting up a request for waivers in the Federal Health Care Law and filing a suit against it at the same time. Could this possibly be a Tea Party move to block the law? Using the most vulnerable citizens in our state as hostages in a political strategy would be pretty low. Doing this as a result of policital allegiance to right wing groups would really be hateful.

JOHN PAINTER's picture

From cutting to transformation

The Governors proposed budget cuts to MaineCare our state’s Medicaid program are as sweeping as the proposal years ago to add those optional services.

The proposed cuts the Legislature must now struggle with are for optional Medicaid services, one of them in particular, PNMI medical and rehabilitation services has been found in five cases to be in violation of Federal rules and were required to cease operation by CMS this past November. Still at risk is how the state had developed and allowed many PNMI’s to operate, most seriously co-mingling room and board costs with the cost of medically necessary services. An ongoing risk is how the state developed PNMI’s in recent years to require people to give up their housing and move into group homes in order to receive medically necessary services, this pretty clearly is contrary to the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Olmstead Act, and common sense.

Having participated in the state PNMI service provider meetings the state held in October to try and understand what provider agencies thought could be done and what services were important to save, I was surprised at the range of non-reimbursable services most agencies offered and proposed as essential to retain. Many of those services were ones which are indeed important for a persons overall wellbeing; housing, food, recreation, spiritual needs, etc but are not paid for by Medicaid. There are a host of other programs already in existence, which can and should be, utilized for these needs to avoid duplication of services and to assure the state and service providers are not attributing non-medical costs to MaineCare.

The debate around PNMI’s isn’t so much the services, most medical services still remain since they are required services under Medicaid. The real delema is about how to assure people whos housing was bundled with their medical services gets untangled so that we do not have several thousand senior citizens and other adults and children with serious disabilities literally homeless.

There are a number of options including utilizing the existing service provider tax from those PNMI’s, estimated around $38 million, to create a temporary board and care network with their existing PNMI service providers in the short term, to assure peoples housing remains intact while the state develops and seeks approval from CMS of a new system. We also have a strong partner with VA system which is currently under a mandate to end homelessness for all veterans, Maine should fully utilize this initiative to assure veterans in PNMI services do not become homeless.

ANTHONY NAZAR's picture

Governor - you wouldn't recognize

economic reality if it reared up and bit your butt.

Stop listening to your patron at the eritage Foundation. He has never received a single vote for anything as far as I know - perhaps class president in sixth grade, but that would be it.

Economics 101 - Your budget cut taxes by 150 million (at the direction of the Heritage Foundation) and - duh - you have a budget shortfall of 120 million/yr.

Rescind the tax cut which has not yet taken effect hence that action would not be a tax increase and the shortfall goes away.

That is reality. I know Dutson will be very angry with you - but that's tough.

Now freepers - all together - hit disagree. You don't need to know why, just follow orders and disagree. Good boys - Mommy has a biscuit for you in the kitchen

GARY SAVARD's picture

The 50% or so of Maine's

The 50% or so of Maine's population that pays income taxes to support the other 50% or so of the population that pay no income taxes but receive various taxpayer funded entitlements may just decide to pick up their marbles and go somewhere else to play. This has been going on for some time already and when there aren't enough people left to squeeze, then what? I can't get over just how many people have been living in this bubble and have no clue as to how un-sustainable our current welfare system is. Call governor Lepage anything you want, but at least he's being honest about the DHHS problems, which is more than you can say for former governor Baldacci. I'm sure Peggy Rotundo's solution is the same one put forth by democrats time and time again when faced with financial problems, that being to raise taxes on everything in sight.

 's picture

We didn't say raise taxes,

We didn't say raise taxes, merely put them back to the same level they were at when lepage decided to give his cronies a massive tax break. This DHHS deficit is of lepage's doing, he shouldn't fix it on the back of the poor.

GARY SAVARD's picture

Baldacci paid the DHHS bill

Baldacci paid the DHHS bill with stimulus money for what, three years? Even then he left a bunch of IOU's to hospitals and other providers. Don't blame this mess on Lepage tax cuts because it started a long time ago, like when the democrats decided to use Medicaid as our state insurance program knowing full well the bills would come back and bite SOMEONE in the butt.

Mark Elliott's picture

Many times I've considered

Many times I've considered moving. If it weren't for my family being here, I would have. It's still on the table though.......

RONALD RIML's picture

Mark

You don't have an anchor tied to yer stern, do ya???? (or the table)

Mark Elliott's picture

As a matter of fact Ron, as I

As a matter of fact Ron, as I stated above, I do! My family.........besides, I have a mission here, to turn Maine red! ;)

RONALD RIML's picture

No issue there

We are red - with our national embarrassment - LePage.

Mark Elliott's picture

Well Ron, might I suggest you

Well Ron, might I suggest you hoist anchor? I hear Hawaii is nice and warm. You can room with Dr. Dosh.

Mark Elliott's picture

Actually Ron, rooming with

Actually Ron, rooming with Dr. Dosh would cost much at all.....just bring your own tent.

RONALD RIML's picture

Gonna

Write me a check for advance travel pay????

I'll look for some digs.

Mark Elliott's picture

You know, that might actually

You know, that might actually be worth it, just don't cash the check till you get there because I'm not as rich as Dan thinks I am......

RONALD RIML's picture

Let me guess....

You weren't in the military

"Advance Travel Pay" means exactly what it says - Pay to get where one is going

This offer to get me to Hawaii is good only through 'Mud Season' ;)

Mark Elliott's picture

Maybe our hospitals should

Maybe our hospitals should require "advanced pay" as well??

RONALD RIML's picture

And then

They'de have to fire half the employees.....

Thanks for a brilliant idea for more unemployment! A wonderful Republican you make....

Lori D'Amico's picture

Gov. LePage and his Proposed Budget Cuts

When Gov. LePage spends a year living on MY yearly budget or that of any other Maine citizen that deals with low income/poverty, disability and the day to day stressors involved in making ends meet THEN he'd have not only a better idea of what it's like but also perhaps a bit more credibility as governor of our state!
Kudos to Rep. Rotundo and all others who are fighting against such drastic cuts and in doing so, taking a stand for those who are most vulnerable to such cuts!
Gov. Lepage, I do not own a car, I do not qualify for MaineCare, I am on disability and have begun my return to the workforce (where I was once productive and self suppporting for two decades) and now, as a result, I no longer qualify for my small food stamp allotment per month even though I am able to work only part time currently. I live in subsidized housing, I do not own a cell phone and I do not have cable. Could YOU live comfortably like that? Would YOU be able to with even MORE drastic cuts?
My mom is 71, she was diagnosed with cancer this year and had to have surgery to remove part of her lung. She is not in an optimal living situation and she struggles to make ends meet. I will survive either way because I am a survivor but how can anyone in good conscience advocate cutting essential services to folks who have worked and paid taxes all their lives and who now, NEED the help?
To consider the needs of the state "without emotion" is to do so without heart as well. In my humble opinion anyway!

Mark Elliott's picture

Governor LePage has lived on

Governor LePage has lived on LESS than you have.......for years!

Mike Lachance's picture

Apparently you know little

Apparently you know little about LePage and where he has been and where he has come from. Do a little research.

RONALD RIML's picture

LePage

We know where he has been - and where he hasn't been. That's why we call him Jody.

Mike Lachance's picture

On a different note... merry

On a different note... merry Christmas Ron. God bless you and your family.

RONALD RIML's picture

And

And a Happy and blessed Christmas to you and yours, Mike - and the best of the year to come.

 's picture

Interesting that this coward

Interesting that this coward walks into a work session, but doesn't speak until it's over, and only to the press. IF he had guts, he would have spoken at the meeting and defend himself against serious questioning.

Mark Elliott's picture

Shows us what you know Dan,

Shows us what you know Dan, it wasn't his meeting to speak at!

 's picture

He's the governor, he can

He's the governor, he can speak at any meeting he wants to. Whether he gets priority status or not depends on the meeting.

Mark Elliott's picture

It wasn't his time to speak.

It wasn't his time to speak. If he were to barge his way in and demand to speak you would have called him a "bully"! You can't deny that, we all know you too well!

Alice Barnett's picture

economic realities

Electricity

1. transmission costs = rate hike

2.The Renewable Portfolio Standard : Wind Power Marketer's dream. Charging $85 to $100 per megawatt into a grid where commonly the price is $55 per megawatt = rate hike

3. Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative penalizes conventional electric generators . That's an increase in costs, = rate hike

4.Efficiency Maine , a program that places a surtax on everyone's electric bill. That's an increase, = rate hike

5. GRID scale WIND = rate hike

Alice Barnett's picture

disagrees

can you please state why you disagree with the above true statement?

RONALD RIML's picture

They

They 'Disagree' with you when you are right, and they are too cowardly to comment their disagreement.....

Phyllis Hyde's picture

I hope the legislature hands

I hope the legislature hands him a very sound defeat on this matter.

The public hearings just ended last Friday, and he shows up on Tuesday to pressure the legislature to pass his cuts without any discussion? If he had his way, it would be passed by the legislature tomorrow and signed by him on Thursday.

I have historically been a conservative independent tending to vote Republican more than 50% of the time, but the longer LePage is in office and trampling everything he comes near, the more Democratic I become, or at least the more anti_LePage I become.

I have a family member who grew up in Maine but now lives in Atlanta. The only source of his information is television and newspaper news, but he's hearing regularly in Atlanta about LePage. It may take years after LePage has left office for Maine to regain the reputation it had before LePage came on the scene.

I have a better appreciation of the separation of powers included in the Maine Constitution (which I just read) regarding the Legislative branch being separate from the executive branch. I wish LePage would read the Maine constitution again (assuming he's already read it once) and also develop a better appreciation of the separateness of the two branches.

Doreen Sheive's picture

LePage just doesn't get it

The Legislature has the absolute responsiblity for making legislative changes to the law and programs. They will not be bullied or intimated by Paul LePage. And, the sooner he learns this the better off we will all be.

John Guy's picture

Just like your mayor of

Just like your mayor of Lewiston did when the Casino lost...Chicago Politics...does and will not work here!!!

RONALD RIML's picture

And

You know Chicago politics how - Living in Auburn????

When you move in a new neighborhood - what't the 1st thing the Precinct worker brings you???

Advertisement

Stay informed — Get the news delivered for free in your inbox.

I'm interested in ...