Analysis: DHHS budget compromise patched for the moment

AUGUSTA — With its preliminary approval by the Maine House of Representatives on Tuesday, one would think the Department of Health and Human Services budget compromise was still intact.

And it is, but not before it wasn’t.

The proposal that is expected to come out of the House on Thursday likely will look a bit different from the plan that received initial approval Tuesday. That’s because behind the scenes, the deal was breaking apart.

Republican lawmakers are still poised to reject Gov. Paul LePage’s calls for deeper Medicaid cuts for fiscal year 2012, though the GOP still isn’t ultra-thrilled with the idea of spurning the governor. However, given the immediate need to close the budget gap and the quick resolution provided by ratifying a budget with two-thirds — and Democratic — approval, the GOP appears willing to irk LePage now while delivering most of what he wants to Medicare in 2013.

What the party isn’t willing to do, apparently, is tick off the Maine Heritage Policy Center.

Last week, amid the aftermath of the budget deal reached by the Appropriations Committee, the conservative advocacy group released a terse reaction to the compromise. The group’s ire centered on the plan to stop the scheduled drawdown of the Dirigo Health insurance assessment, fees assessed on insurance providers to fund the state’s affordable health care program.

Fights over the Dirigo assessment are legendary. In 2010, the Republican Party ran political ads calling it a “baby tax” because, it argued, increases in the surcharge were being passed along to patients who had surgery or babies.

Last year, the new Republican majority passed legislation to draw down the Dirigo assessment. The budget deal reached last week, however, would have halted that reduction in order to keep certain low-income individuals eligible for MaineCare.

But the statement by the Maine Heritage Policy Center, which holds considerable influence with the Maine GOP, threatened that plan. The group, referring to the assessment as a tax, said it was an “outrageous dereliction” of the voter mandate that swept Republicans into power in 2010.

Since then, Republicans have been meeting with Democrats, seeking a way to continue the drawdown of the assessment. Democrats threatened to walk if that meant eliminating more health care coverage.

The push-pull continued all day Tuesday. By the end of the day, people close to the negotiations said both sides had reached a deal that would continue the assessment reduction while retaining the health care coverage levels in the original compromise. Apparently, lawmakers also figured out a way to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates for the hospitals, too.

So how are they paying for all this? That’s not clear.

Specifics should be included in a budget amendment that will likely come from the House floor. That was supposed to happen Wednesday; however, Republican leaders Wednesday morning suspended the budget vote until Thursday.

That likely means lawmakers are still trying to find common ground on how to pay for the compromise. If they reach it, the budget should come out of the House on Thursday, assuming the deal doesn’t fall apart before then.

smistler@sunjournal.com

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Comments

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

Eye on the ball

The real emergency here is that for the first time in my recollection Maine has come in dead last in job creation. We not only had a loss of jobs but we had the greatest loss of all the states. Regardless of what Democrats have done in the past or what this administration is doing now this is an honor we need to get rid of pronto. If this administration can't govern in a way to produce the jobs they promised they should get out of the way and let people who know how to govern do it. The only job growth we have had in the past year is in health care jobs and this Maine Care flap will succeed in killing that off. At this rate we will be in recession longer than Greece.

Mike Lachance's picture

Dead Last? Back in August wae

Dead Last? Back in August wae were quite a way from "dead last":
http://www.gallup.com/poll/149072/Energy-States-Lead-Job-Creation-Financ...
Just this week Gallup reports Job creation is up, and the WEST is far worse than the Northeast.

Moreover... Under Gov. Paul LePage, Maines employment figures have been steadily improving... this according the the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:
http://data.bls.gov
In January 2011 the rate was 7.5%, and it had fallen to 7.0% by December 2011

GRAPH:
http://www.google.com/publicdata/explore?ds=z1ebjpgk2654c1_&met_y=unemployment_rate&idim=state:ST230000&fdim_y=seasonality:S&dl=en&hl=en&q=latest+unemployment+rate+for+maine#!ctype=l&strail=false&bcs=d&nselm=h&met_y=unemployment_rate&fdim_y=seasonality:S&scale_y=lin&ind_y=false&rdim=country&idim=state:ST230000&ifdim=country&tstart=1295067600000&tend=1323925200000&hl=en&dl=en

So, I guess it depends where you get your "numbers" and what the motives are behind those who spit those numbers out...

"A steady decline in Maine’s unemployment rate has led to Maine being removed from the federal designated list of “high unemployment states.”
http://www.maine.gov/tools/whatsnew/index.php?topic=Labor+Press+Releases...

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

More info

I you are really interested the comment comes from the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics in an analysis of their facts done by the Maine Center for Economic Policy. They released their figures on 2-08-2012. They claim Maine lost 7,200 jobs in 2011.

Mike Lachance's picture

Oh Brother! Quoting the Maine

Oh Brother! Quoting the Maine Center for (Socialist) Economic Policy??!!??
Mr. Martin writes:
"LePage’s economically unsound...draconian cuts to health care for children, seniors, families and disabled individuals, the core problems with Maine’s struggling economy remain unresolved."

He then goes on to state:
"Maine lawmakers must act now to chart a new course by:
?passing a robust bond package for transportation, public works and communications infrastructure, education, research and development, small business loans and other investments...
?restoring tax fairness to maintain funding for health care, education, job training, child care and other programs that support families."

Ya, thats it, increase our debt, and increase taxes. Thats gonna fix Maine???
Thats what got us here.

The whole of the Federal Labor Stats from which the article cites are ignored but for one incomplete metric. That the big picture is deemed irrelevant is both suspect and quite deliberately dishonest. Go look at the Fed stats on the Fed website and run the numbers. Maine is not dead last in any truly significant labor demographic.

Mike Lachance's picture

Dan, you are not a

Dan, you are not a Republican. I am. You can tell the MHPC Republican voters) is KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK! Thank God we have MHPC working for us Republican Voters in Maine.

Nice try Dan.

Mike Lachance's picture

RE ENTERED MESSAGE: (my

RE ENTERED MESSAGE: (my typing was not entereing into screen)

Dan, you are not a Republican. I am. You can tell the MHPC whatever you want. What *I* tell them (and they do actually listen to Republican voters) is KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK! Thank God we have MHPC working for us Republican Voters in Maine.

Nice try Dan.

Mike Lachance's picture

Dan. I think for myself and

Dan. I think for myself and MHPC just so happens to think the same way I do. I am a Mainer. Born here, raised here. I lived out west for 25+ years and came back to find my home state in a shambles. It wasnt Republicans who made Maine the wreck it is today. But after 45 years of DEM control, us Republicans are the only ones actually DOING SOMETHING to fix it all. Sorry you dont like it. Sorry you must choose to disagree with everything, everybody and every opinion.... but MHPC shares the same ideaology as most every conservative voter in Maine.

Mainers do not toe the the party line... the party line in the Maine GOP is as firm as felt. MHPC, however, is lock step in-line with the opinions and ideaologies of the conservative voter base in Maine.

Thats the truth... Like it or not.

Naran Row-Spaulding's picture

MECEP

You mean an "unelected" entity like the MECEP?

Both sides have think-tanks, and analysis entities. Nothing new, nothing untoward.

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