Budget eliminates and reduces DHHS wait lists for people with disabilities, ups reimbursements for struggling nursing homes

BY RAMONA DU HOUX

April 9th, 2014 

Early Wednesday morning, lawmakers on the state’s budget-writing panel, the Appropriations Committee, unanimously endorsed a roughly $30 million budget proposal.

The funding measure closes a MaineCare shortfall in fiscal year 2015, while also funding $5 million for services for people with disabilities on the DHHS wait lists and $5 million in additional reimbursement for Maine’s struggling nursing homes.

“Our bipartisan proposal provides critical funding for our seniors, individuals with disabilities, and for those suffering from mental illness,” said Rep. Peggy Rotundo. “For months, lawmakers have emphasized the importance of moving our most vulnerable citizens off of wait lists for homecare. At the same time, we’ve also heard from our nursing homes about the crisis they face, especially in rural areas, where some may be forced to close their doors. We took a responsible and collaborative approach to address both of these concerns.”

The funds would eliminate and reduce the wait lists, allowing hundreds of individuals with severe disabilities to get critical home based care services. It also provides $2 million for critical services required under the state’s court ordered mental health consent decree and increases funds for safety and security at Riverview and Dorothea Dix by $908,460.

“We’re grateful that the Appropriations Committee understands the value and services Dorothea Dix offers, being one of only two hospitals that help with the challenges our mentally ill face. However, the facility has not recovered from the state’s last cuts and we need to further enhance this unique asset’s mission by reopening and admitting more patients. The need has been clearly documented, now it’s time for the state to take real positive action protecting the health and wellbeing of our citizens and their communities,” said Bangor City Councilor Joe Baldacci.

In addition to funding key Health and Human Services initiatives, the measure adds funding to education programs, including $650,000 for the Bridge Year program, $300,000 in funding for Jobs for Maine’s Graduates, and $750,000 for Head Start. It also provides $750,000 for municipal homestead reimbursements.

“We worked with our Republican colleagues to pay our bills and protect our most vulnerable, ” said Senator Dawn Hill of York. “We also prioritized funding to help strengthen our economy by boosting educational opportunities and helping our local communities.”

The bill is funded from key sources, including $20 million in savings from extending cycle payments in MaineCare; $3 million in savings found from greater scrutiny of payments to hospitals and other MaineCare providers; $3.5 million in transfers from unexpended funds from Dirgo Health, the Finance Authority of Maine, and the House Opportunity Maine (HOME) fund; $1.9 million in funds from tax audits and $1.3 million in position savings.

While Governor Paul LePage has refused to propose a budget despite shortfalls at his Departments, the committee has worked collaboratively to resolve the budget gap. Last week, the committee’s $58 million budget became law without the Governor’s signature.