AUGUSTA (AP) – Emergency rules that place a cap on hospital expansion projects in Maine take effect this week, setting off a wave of criticism from hospitals and some legislators.

The new rules, issued by Gov. John Baldacci’s Office of Health Policy and Finance, limit how many hospital projects can be approved each year. They will also squeeze out some of the 11 hospital projects awaiting state review, and will apply to all future projects.

The amount hospitals can spend annually on new buildings and equipment is to be announced next week, and then the figure will be finalized in about a month and a half, officials said.

It is among the cost-containment measures spelled out in Baldacci’s 2003 Dirigo Health reform law, which is designed to make health coverage available to thousands of Mainers lacking it.

Under an earlier plan, the Legislature was to come up with a cap formula after it convenes in January. But on Monday, emergency rules took effect that will limit how many new hospital projects can go forward.

The Maine Hospital Association wanted legislative involvement in setting limits.

“It shouldn’t simply be the whim of the executive branch,” said Mary Mayhew, vice president of the Maine Hospital Association.

Hospitals also say new technology and services can have the effect of reducing spending by improving people’s health.

On Tuesday, Republican state Sen. Carol Weston of Montville registered her disapproval of the executive action to Trish Riley, director of the Office of Health Policy, who gave a briefing to the Health and Human Services Committee.

“You’re bypassing the legislative process and I’m just appalled,” said Weston, a member of the committee.

Rep. Thomas Kane, D-Saco, who is chairman of the legislative panel, said he was disappointed lawmakers will not get to review the entire health plan before it’s finalized.

Critics also said the current process for reviewing expensive medical projects has worked just fine for years and that emergency rulemaking is not warranted.

Riley’s office said it began to consider emergency rulemaking after 11 projects worth a total of $214 million were presented to the state in eight weeks, just after a one-year moratorium on medical expansion ended in May.

Supporters of the limits say the costs for medical projects are passed on to insurance companies, who in turn increase premiums for ratepayers.

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