AUGUSTA — An effort by Republican Gov. Paul LePage to move forward with a possible change in eligibility rules that would have reduced mental health services for thousands in Maine was rejected by the Legislature on Friday.

Lawmakers in the House and the Senate overrode LePage’s veto of a bill that sets a moratorium on a Maine Department of Health and Human Services proposal to rewrite the rules for MaineCare patients receiving certain mental health services.

According to supporters of LD 1696, as many as 50,000 people, including 20,000 children with autism and other disabilities, would have been affected had the veto stood.

The issue had some of the largest mental health care providers in Lewiston-Auburn and the families they serve worried they would lose the supports that help them and their children.

The Senate overturned the veto in a 28-6 vote, while the House passed the override by a tighter 101-45 vote earlier in the day. A two-thirds majority vote is required for a veto override.  

“Overriding this veto is a victory for Maine families, who depend on these mental health services that help people with severe mental illness to live stable and, as much as possible, independent lives,” Sen. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, the lead Senate Democrat on the Health and Human Services Committee, said in a prepared statement. “I’m thankful that despite the governor’s opposition, this bill will become law.”

The new law gives DHHS a January 2017 deadline to present a final rate study on mental health services provided through MaineCare programs. It also implements a 60-day waiting period before DHHS can begin the rule-making process and implement cuts.

The legislation essentially puts the brakes on a DHHS process that could have led to reductions in eligibility for clients and reimbursement rates for those who provide the services.

In his veto message, LePage called the bill an overreach of the legislative branch’s power and suggested no actual rule change had been suggested by DHHS.

LePage wrote that DHHS had simply conducted a new rate study and had shared the results of that study with mental health service providers seeking input.

“This resolve is a highly partisan measure introduced at the last minute by one branch of government to infringe on the powers of another,” LePage wrote in his veto message.

Supporters of the bill said that based on estimates from 26 mental health agencies, the administration’s proposals could mean the loss of services for 19,766 children with autism and other disabilities and 27,782 vulnerable adults.

Providers, supporters of the legislation said, would have also seen a $28.7 million reduction in reimbursements from the state.

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