AUGUSTA – After waiting an hour for her turn to testify, Alice Conway of Auburn wheeled her wheelchair to the podium Tuesday to tell members of the Appropriations Committee what state budget cuts would mean to her.

Faced with a $72.7 million reduction in Medicaid money from the federal government in the next two years, Gov. John Baldacci’s administration is again proposing a host of cuts in social programs, including those for child abuse, community services for the mentally ill and prescription drugs.

Like most MaineCare programs, a proposed $19 million cut in prescription drugs becomes a $54 million cut when counting the federal match that would be lost.

Conway was there to object to further “prior authorizations” of prescriptions, which restricts which prescriptions for MaineCare clients will be paid by taxpayers. Buying more of some drugs, or buying more generic drugs, is done to save money.

But Conway said she’s dealt with prior authorization enough already, and the thought of expanding it “scares me.”

She was born with a spine defect that has confined her to a wheelchair. She has constant pain and takes about 15 medications a day, plus intravenous medications and other medical supplies, she said. Now, about nine of her prescriptions require prior authorization. The red ink involved in getting prior approval has been emotionally and physically draining, Conway said. Hearings to overrule prior authorizations take months, she said.

“Please look at the impact on all of our lives these changes will have,” Conway said.

Others opposed more cuts, saying programs have already been cut enough and cannot stand further slashing. Many testified wearing red shirts. Representatives were on hand from the Maine Council of Senior Citizens; Community Concepts of Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties; AARP; Maine Women’s Lobby; AFL-CIO; Legal Services for the Elderly; several police agencies; the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill; and the Maine Association of Mental Health Services; as well as other individuals and advocates.

Carol Carothers of NAMI said she was there as an advocate of the mentally ill and representing the Portland Police Department and sheriffs in Penobscot and Kennebec counties.

The police agencies wanted her to tell legislators that the proposed cuts to community services for adult mentally ill people “will compromise public safety, add to the tax burden and increase already overcrowded jails” with mentally ill people. Police officers and jails have become the primary safety net in Maine for the mentally ill, Carothers said.

Police “know better than most what happens when people of mental illness can’t access treatment or medications,” she said.

Many who attended Tuesday’s public hearing could not fit into the room. Susan Jalbert of Lewiston stood in a hall holding a sign for lawmakers to see. It read: “Healthy Maine Children Need our Services, Androscoggin County Opposes Cuts in Child Welfare.”

Jalbert works in a Community Concepts intervention program that works with families referred by the Department of Human Services because of reported child abuse.

The proposed budget calls for intervention program money to be cut in half in the year after next, Jalbert said. Compared to other counties, Androscoggin County now receives the highest number of child abuse reports. “Lewiston alone has the highest reporting rate,” Jalbert said. If her agency had only half of its current funding, Jalbert said staff would have to be laid off. She questioned how the staff could continue to work with families. Recently, the Lewiston office has had a high number of reports of siblings sexually abusing other siblings. It takes work to determine if the report is true, what kind of parental supervision is needed to stop the behavior and whether a predator has abused a child, Jalbert said.

“We’re having more and more cases like that, and there are so few services to treat the children,” she said, adding that makes intervention all the more critical.

The committee will debate the budget cuts in a work session that had not been scheduled as of Tuesday afternoon.


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