Gov. LePage’s Budget Plan Earns Strong Criticism
BY RAMONA DU HOUX
December 14, 2011
“I ask you to remember that if you make cuts to the Medicare Savings Program, you are letting 72,000 seniors and disabled adults go without a doctor’s care, without prescription drugs, and we know this will cost us all much suffering and more money in the long run,” said Richard Farnsworth, chair of AARP’s Capitol City Task Force. “If you remember nothing else, please remember that the largest part of our state Medicaid budget goes to long-term care. Nursing home and hospital care is a lot more expensive and not where people want to be or live.”
Over 500 citizens rallied today to send a message to lawmakers that extreme proposals presented by Gov. Paul LePage would hurt thousands of working families, the elderly, people with disabilities, the poor and children while also killing more than 4,400 jobs.Public hearings on Gov. LePage’s proposal, which would cut more than $220 million in state funding for MaineCare, the Fund for Healthy Maine, Head Start and other health programs, are scheduled to run through Friday.
Many of Gov. LePage’s proposed cuts would have disastrous effects on seniors.
“What has happened to make our Legislature and our governor even consider balancing the state budget by ripping to shreds the already thread-bare safety net that exists for our poorest citizens,” said Rich Livingston, a member of AARP’s volunteer executive council. “Whatever happened to protecting Mainers as they age or as they need our help? It is outrageous to me that it is the poorest of the poor who could needlessly suffer if the right conclusions are not reached in the coming weeks.”
Other speakers at the rally included advocates for people living in private, non-medical institutions who could lose their homes and other necessary supports as part of the budget cuts.
“There are thousands of people today who are very frightened and feeling desperate about the impact and magnitude of the proposed cuts. They are worried about their survival,” said Betsy Sweet, of Moose Ridge Associates, which represents people with behavioral health needs, disabilities and those who receive primary health care. “The decisions the Legislature makes in the next few weeks will reflect what kind of people and what kind of state we are. Will we ignore the conditions of today’s economy and individual Mainer’s lives in order to fulfill a political agenda? Or will we slow down and find the balance of care and economy that reflect the people we are?”
Democratic members of the Maine Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee stated yesterday that they have grave concerns that questionable calculations by the LePage Administration are responsible for the claimed $220 million shortfall in the Department of Health and Human Services’ budget during a public hearing scrutinizing the governor’s proposed budget cuts.
“We learned that the budget hole was partially caused by poor planning and questionable assumptions from the administration,” said Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, a veteran member of the Appropriations Committee. “We don’t have a problem of increased enrollment of MaineCare. Contrary to the governor’s rhetoric, what we have here is a realization of a failure to plan nearly a year into the governor’s tenure.”
During the past 11 months, enrollment in MaineCare has seen a minimal increase. The total cost incurred from the increase in enrollment is $6.5 million of the entire claimed $220 million shortfall.
An analysis of the shortfall shows the administration underestimated the cost of assisted living facilities, did not plan for the loss of certain federal dollars, failed to plan for real-time non-critical access hospital payments, potentially made overpayments to hospitals and underestimated Medicaid claims, while providing large tax cuts the wealthiest Maine people.
Throughout the hearing, Democrats said they had strong concerns about the credibility of the numbers presented by the administration.
The Legislature’s non-partisan budget analysis office also said it still had questions about the Department of Health and Human Services analysis of the shortfall.
“Based on conflicting accounts, we continue to have concerns about the numbers the governor has put forth,” said Rep. Peggy Rotundo, the lead House Democrat on the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee. “In the beginning of November, the hole was $70 million, a week later it was $121 million, and now it is $220 million. And still today, the commissioner confirmed that certain numbers are not yet finalized. How do we know we won’t see an increase next month?”
Rotundo added, “We are eager to get to work with our Republican colleagues on solving the real problem once we are confident in the numbers. We really need to focus on what the immediate need is and how we can fill it in a fair and comprehensive way.”
Meanwhile the people who came to the rally insisted they will continue to fight LePage’s cuts.
“The proposal presented by Gov. LePage would hurt every community in Maine,” said Ben Dudley, a key organizer of the Maine Can Do Better Coalition, which sponsored the rally. “The impacts of this proposal would hurt Maine’s economic recovery, and touch every family in the state, including those with private health insurance. Tens of thousands of people would lose health insurance, access to medicine and some could even lose their homes.”
Maine Can Do Better is a broad coalition of more than 150 partner organizations, which advocates for sustaining vital public structures that are essential to Maine’s economic prosperity.