AUGUSTA (AP) – Proposed changes in home health care services were criticized Friday at a hearing packed with more than 80 people, at least a third of them in wheelchairs.

The state is proposing cuts in its long-term care program that would limit participants to 64 hours of personal service a week. Officials said cuts are needed to meet new federal guidelines, and to make up for a $1 million cut in its state budget, which resulted in a loss of $1.9 million in federal matching funds.

Currently, about 160 people in Maine receive more than 64 hours of personal service a week. Many fear the changes would force them out of their homes and into nursing homes.

Under the Medicaid waiver program, personal assistants are paid through MaineCare, a federally funded program run by the state. But federal guidelines say the cost of assistants cannot exceed the cost of keeping a person in a nursing home.

Linett Devlin spoke for Patrick Harris of Bar Harbor, who has been a quadriplegic since 2001 and receives about 13 hours a day of personal care. If the rules change, he would get nine hours of personal care a day.

“To provide a practical perspective, Patrick would like to encourage the governor and other deciders of law in this state to lay down in a bed, have their arms and legs tied down and remain that way – unattended for 14.8 hours per day – for just one day, and they will reach a relative understanding of what a complete quadriplegic faces on a daily basis,” Devlin said at the hearing at the Bureau of Medical Services.

Laura Antranigian of Portland addressed the crowd and had her words clarified by an aide.

“Nobody in this room asked to be this way. With these cuts, we feel we’re being punished,” she said. “I have 97 hours per week and 14 night hours, and I use every single hour. I need help with every single thing that I do. I can’t get out of bed alone. If you do this, you change my life.”

The state will continue taking comments on the proposed rule change until Sept. 14.

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