AUGUSTA — U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree has asked the federal government to reverse reductions in payments to methadone treatment centers that have happened since Gov. Paul LePage took office.

In an Oct. 8 letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Pingree, a Democrat, said that the cuts since 2010 have put significant financial pressure on the state’s methadone treatment centers — which provide treatment to people addicted to heroin and other opioids — while overdose rates in Maine continue to rise.

This is the second time since 2012 that Pingree has objected publicly through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to Maine’s efforts to change reimbursement rates to methadone clinics.

“The United States is experiencing an opiate addiction epidemic, and Mainers have not been spared,” wrote Pingree. “Since I last wrote, the problem has only worsened.”

Pingree cited data from the Maine Office of Substance Abuse that show the number of people seeking opioid addiction treatment in Maine tripled between 2010 and 2014. In 2014, 100 Mainers died of heroin or fentanyl overdoses, a number that’s on track to being eclipsed this year, when there were 63 overdoses by the end of June.

Pingree said the decision by LePage and Republicans to forgo an expansion of Medicaid under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act has left a number of addicts without treatment options. On the service provider side, Pingree said weekly reimbursement rates for methadone treatment were cut from $80 to $70 in 2010 and from $70 to $60 in 2012.


“This may indeed be the lowest rate for outpatient methadone treatment in the country,” wrote Pingree.

The 2012 reimbursement rate cut was included in a bipartisan state budget bill that had support from both Republicans and Democrats.

In September, Spectrum Health Systems of Sanford, which began providing methadone treatment services in January 2014, said it would cease its operations in Maine and blamed the policies of the LePage administration, including forgoing applying for federal grant funding. That included up to $3 million that Maine was invited to apply for because of the state’s high per-capita rate of admissions to treatment programs involving methadone and Suboxone.

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services said at the time that Spectrum treated only 38 Medicaid patients in 2014 and 85 in fiscal year 2015. Overall, Maine spent nearly $14 million on methadone treatment for 3,900 patients in fiscal year 2014.

LePage has long been a critic of methadone treatments. In January 2015, he proposed eliminating methadone treatments and transitioning patients to Suboxone, another medication that DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew has said is a safer and more controllable alternative. LePage’s request was rejected by the Legislature after outcry from the treatment community.

Department of Health and Human Services spokesman David Sorensen repeated in a written statement to the Bangor Daily News on Tuesday LePage’s long-held view that services for addicts are a lower priority than funneling money and resources to other programs.


“We wish Rep. Pingree were as concerned about the reimbursement rates provided to Maine nursing homes and to primary care doctors helping mothers and children as she is about methadone clinics,” wrote Sorensen. “The LePage administration has fought to increase MaineCare reimbursement rates for the elderly, disabled and vulnerable families, but the Legislature has largely rejected those measures in favor of funding for methadone clinics and welfare for non-citizens.”

The Legislature has in fact increased funding for nursing homes, including a $4 million increase in 2014 along with a ramping up of reimbursement rates, plus a total of $13 million more in state funding this year and next.

Pingree is requesting that the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services rule against the already-implemented reimbursement rate cuts when a decision is made on Maine’s “State Plan Amendment,” which is pending with the federal government. Pingree argues that the cuts violate the access clause of the Medicaid Act.

“While I recognize that the Department of Health and Human Services is in the process of finalizing its guidance on the equal access rule, those in need of access to addiction treatment cannot continue to wait,” wrote Pingree.

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