By Ramona du Houx
Committee addresses concerns of Mainers who faced sudden loss of crucial supports
Mainers facing the sudden loss of crucial mental health services under new LePage administration rules cutting eligibility will have the time to find adequate replacement supports under a bipartisan bill crafted and unanimously supported by the Health and Human Services Committee.
The measure voted out April 6, 2016 keeps in place services that help Mainers with mental illness stay in their homes and avoid more costly hospitalization and residential services. The committee’s bill provides at least a 120-day transition period for each individual affected by the Department of Health and Human Services’ plan and, if alternative, adequate services are not available, 90-day extensions through June 30, 2017.
“The Mainers who spoke up about the harm they could suffer under the administration’s plan were loud and clear. They cannot withstand the immediate loss of vital supports without anything to replace them,” said Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbook, the House chair of the committee. “We cannot allow the administration to make these cuts without providing a lifeline.”
Hundreds of Mainers turned out last week to stand united against the LePage administration’s eligibility changes to Section 17 of the MaineCare rules. The plan limits automatic eligibility to Mainers with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder, potentially leaving behind Mainers with post-traumatic stress disorder, major anxiety disorder and other diagnoses.
“This arrangement provides a soft landing for Mainers who may no longer be eligible for Section 17 services,” said Sen. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, the lead Senate Democrat on the committee. “By providing time to transition, and flexibility, we can ensure that no Mainer dealing with a mental health diagnosis is left without the help they need to leave stable lives.”
The administration recently notified 24,000 Mainers with serious mental illness that they may lose services. The plan will be implemented Friday.
DHHS is telling affected Mainers they might be able to get care elsewhere while also planning rate cuts of 24 to 48 percent for those services that providers won’t be able to absorb. DHHS also suggests its new “behavioral health home” program as an alternative, but availability is limited and, in some areas, not an option at all.
The administration categorizes the Section 17 eligibility changes as “routine technical” ones, which do not require review and approval from the Legislature. However, affected individuals made use of a rarely used option to petition the Legislature for review.