BY RAMONA DU HOUX
March 14, 2011
Gov. Paul LePage’s budget proposal has made it clear that the Fund for a Healthy Maine is no longer off limits for general fund uses.
Gov. John Baldacci fought long and hard to make sure The Fund for a Healthy Maine was used solely for programs that would benefit the health and well being of the people of Maine. The fund is refreshed each year by about $50 million from the 1998 multi-state settlement with tobacco companies. Maine has several times been recognized nationally for the degree to which it has preserved the fund for public health initiatives and for tobacco prevention and cessation programs.
In 2003, Maine ranked 16th healthiest among the states; today Maine is 8th. In 2003, Maine ranked 19th among the states in covering the uninsured; today Maine is 6th. Some of these healthcare improvements can directly be attributed to how The Fund for a Healthy Maine was used.
In the mid-2000s, public health groups pushed the possibility of protecting the Fund for a Healthy Maine in the state constitution to keep it from being spent on non-public health programs, but the measure lacked the two-thirds vote needed to pass through the Legislature. Some thought that by establishing a track record of where the funds were spent—a record with proven results— than that would be enough to keep it alive.
Gov. LePage’s proposed budget would eliminate:
• all funding for a statewide home visiting program for first-time parents.
• residential drug treatment programs.
• school-based oral and dental health programs.
• all funding for family planning.
• a forgivable loan program for dental students
• a scholarship program for low-income students studying health professions at Maine’s community colleges.
• a state-level R.N. consultant for local school nurses
• a bone marrow screening program that helps find donors for leukemia patients.
• $15 million out of the Drugs for the Elderly and Disabled program.
• four inspectors in the office of the State Fire Marshal.
• a coordinator for the adult drug court program.
• and one and a half positions at the Attorney General’s office.
In total, the cuts would take away $18.1 million out of the programs the fund supports. These funds have contributed to building safer and healthier Maine communities, enhancing the state’s quality of life.