AUGUSTA – As she listened to U.S. Reps. Mike Michaud and Tom Allen Monday, Helen Ames of the Chateau Cushnoc quietly let her feelings be known. “Medicaid cuts are bad medicine” stated a piece of paper attached to her walker.

The sentiment was shared by others at the residential facility who gathered to hear the congressmen and a half-dozen state Democrats speak out about President Bush’s proposed federal budget cuts, including cuts to Medicaid and veterans services.

The Medicaid cuts and Medicaid block grants proposed by Bush would “put the health care coverage of nearly 50 million low-income children, families, seniors and people with disabilities at serious risk,” Allen said. “We’re here to try to stop that.”

He noted that the administration is cutting health care while giving tax cuts to the rich, those who earn $340,000 and more a year.

Michaud said other proposed Bush budget cuts would hurt veterans. Compared to other states, Maine’s percentage of veterans is among the highest, and many are at the age when they need the care they were promised, said Michaud, who serves on the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

Cutting care to them, and to new veterans returning from Iraq, is wrong, he said.

Citing one budget example, Michaud said Bush wants to change eligibility rules for receiving care in veterans nursing homes, which would mean 80 percent or more of Maine veterans in those homes would lose their per-diem benefit – income they need to stay there, he said.

“Currently there are 421 Maine veterans at state nursing homes who are eligible. If we accept the president’s proposal, that number will be dropped to 61,” forcing the other 360 veterans “to go somewhere else,” Michaud said. The loss of that benefit could force the collapse of some veterans homes, he said.

The administration is also proposing a new $250 enrollment fee for veterans before they could receive any VA health services, “plus they want to double the co-payments for veterans’ prescription drugs,” he said.

The aim, Michaud said, is to save money by increasing VA revenues while lowering demand and driving veterans away from veteran health care.

“I think it’s wrong. It’s unconscionable that we would be taxing our veterans, forcing those in nursing homes to seek alternative health care,” Michaud said.

Regarding Medicaid cuts, Bush is proposing that $45 billion be cut over 10 years; Maine would lose about $345 million over that time. “That’s simply way more than we can afford,” Allen said.

Looking at a room of seniors gathered at the facility, Allen observed that their residential home was well staffed and well run. In 1965, before Congress created Medicaid, millions of disabled seniors went without that kind of care “because they could not afford it,” Allen said. America also had the highest infant and child mortality rate among industrialized nations.

“Medicaid changed all that,” said Allen, who along with the other speakers encouraged the seniors to contact the president with their concerns.

As of Monday, U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe had not seen specifics of the budget, said spokeswoman Antonia Ferrier, noting, however, that Snowe will oppose Medicaid cuts to Maine. “The senator does not favor slashing Medicaid.”

Snowe has said the federal government cannot abandon its responsibility to help states provide health care to the most vulnerable, and has urged no significant changes until after a special commission has reviewed Medicaid, Ferrier said.

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