AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — The federal government on Friday responded to the governor's request to allow cuts in Medicaid programs, but rather than provide concrete answers it asked for more time to study the matter.
"I want to assure you that we will review your plan amendment carefully and render a decision promptly, as soon as our review is complete," Marilyn Tavenner, acting administrator of the Department of Health and Human Services' Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said in a letter to Gov. Paul LePage.
Cuts due to take effect Oct. 1 would eliminate Medicaid coverage for 19- and 20-year-olds, remove 1,825 people from the Medicare Savings Program and increase eligibility requirements for non-disabled, non-pregnant adults on Medicaid. The cuts add up to nearly $20 million in savings.
The LePage administration contends that Medicaid, which serves 361,000 Maine residents and is known locally as MaineCare, has far exceeded taxpayers' ability to pay for it. In the request for approval of the cuts, filed with DHHS on Aug. 1, state officials said Maine's eligibility standards in Medicaid, even with the cuts, still exceed federal minimums.
The request also points to a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June that said Medicaid expansions under the federal Affordable Care Act can't be forced upon the states. The state letter asked for a response by Saturday, citing budgetary considerations.
The government's response Friday cited a law that gives it 90 days to review such plans, but it promised a prompt response.
When the state's waiver plan was filed Aug. 1, Attorney General William Schneider said the state likely would file a lawsuit if no answer was provided by Saturday.
But on Friday, Schneider's office said it could say nothing about a possible lawsuit. Spokeswoman Brenda Kielty also said officials had not reviewed Tavenner's letter so they had no comment. LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said the governor's office had not seen the letter and would not comment.
Tavenner's letter said DHHS acknowledged that a state budget supplement passed in mid-May predicates savings on the Medicaid cuts, "but your request raises issues that require careful consideration" by the department.
The department released a separate statement saying, "We look forward to continuing to work with Maine so that the state has the flexibility it needs while ensuring that the Medicaid program provides high quality care to its beneficiaries."
But the department has hinted which way it may be headed in rendering a ruling. On Aug. 2, the day after the state submitted its plan, CMMS spokesman Brian Cook said Maine has certified its budget deficit, which may allow it to end Medicaid coverage for adults with incomes above 133 percent of the federal poverty line who aren't disabled or pregnant. But the other two cuts, affecting young adults and those on the Medicare Savings Program, raise questions, he said.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.