December 6, 2011

Gov. Paul LePage’s supplemental budget proposal released December 6, 2011, laid out a drastic plan for restructuring Medicaid, including changing eligibility which would eliminate Medicaid coverage to more than 44,000 to 65,000 Maine citizens. This Medicaid- or MaineCare coverage has been a focus of the LePage administration to dismantle.

“The proposal puts our economy in jeopardy and undermines public health and safety. It hurts Mainers who are already struggling with absolutely no plan to get people back to work,” said Rep. Emily Cain, the House Democratic leader.

MaineCare now provides health insurance to 361,315 low-income and disabled residents. Some of the increases in enrollment in recent years are due to the recession. Every $1 cut from state MaineCare funding would mean a $2 cut in federal funding to the state. The state could end up paying more for healthcare if MaineCare enrollment is cut. Getting rid of numbers from a list will not mend people who will be forced to seek care in emergency rooms which will make premiums go up for people who pay for insurance. And local municipalities will be inundated with people cut off of state services.

Other changes include drastically reducing critical services like drugs for the elderly, dental care, child immunizations, Fund for a Healthy Maine, and the Head Start program. Many of these attacks on healthcare safety nets were rejected by both Republicans and Democrats during budget negotiations earlier this year and do not rely on Medicaid.

“Gov. LePage’s budget puts the cart before the horse,” said Senator Margaret Craven, who serves on the Health and Human Services Committee (DHHS). “He has presented us with cuts to programs before telling us what the numbers are. It’s remarkable that the governor even thinks that we can have a discussion about the budget without the numbers.”

According to state officials the budget shortfall ballooned from one week to the next with very few details on why the fluctuations occurred. DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew told the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee her department was facing a $70 million budget gap for fiscal year 2012 in early November. Two weeks later she told the committee that number had grown suddenly by more than $50 million to $121 million.

“We have yet to get an answer on why DHHS has not been able to get a handle on accurately projecting and managing its costs.” said Rep. Peggy Rotundo the lead House Democrat on the Appropriations Committee and Financial Affairs Committee – where final budget decisions are worked out before being voted on in the legislature. “We won’t be rushed into making any decisions until we have an accurate accounting of the figures.”

During the budget briefing LePage agreed that certain numbers needed to be verified.

Rotundo added, “Once we fully agree on the size of the gap, Democrats are committed to working with Republicans to find a fair solution that is based on a comprehensive review of the entire budget. We won’t help the governor pave the way for tax cuts for the wealthy, while paying for them on the backs of struggling Maine families, the elderly, and the disabled.”

“At this point, without actual numbers, this proposed budget is nothing more than a red herring, disguising the primary issue of financial accountability,” said Senator Dawn Hill who also serves on Appropriations.