AUGUSTA — Advocates for the elderly, the poor and the disabled objected Tuesday to a proposal in Gov. Paul LePage’s supplemental budget to extend the time the state has to determine Medicaid eligibility for the disabled.

The proposal would give the Department of Health and Human Services 90 days to decide whether disabled applicants qualify for Medicaid. That’s consistent with federal guidelines, but state law now requires a determination within 45 days. If the state cannot decide within 45 days, it pays for an applicant’s coverage while the determination is pending.

The language in the budget wouldn’t save any money in this fiscal year, which ends June 30, but human services officials told the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee that it could save $3 million in the next fiscal year and $6 million the following year.

Groups such as the Disability Rights Center, the Maine Primary Care Association and Maine Equal Justice Partners said the change would take a toll on disabled Mainers who need health care.

“People already find themselves having to go without care or ending up in the emergency room as they wait through the initial 45 days,” said Ana Hicks, who spoke for the Maine Association of Interdependent Neighborhoods. “Doubling the time that they have to wait for coverage will lead people’s health to deteriorate further.”

It may also lead to a court challenge. Hicks said a 1978 consent decree requires the state to process all requests for Medicaid within 45 days.

Leo Delicata of Legal Services for the Elderly said the proposal also may violate conditions under which Maine is receiving additional federal money under the stimulus program.

Lawmakers considered, but rejected, a similar proposal last year and opted to hire temporary state workers to try to speed up determinations of eligibility. Those positions expire June 30, so the DHHS is seeking to extend the determinations to 90 days, said Russell Begin, acting commissioner.

Also during public hearings Tuesday, hospital administrators testified in support of a plan to use $69.5 million in state funds to help retire Medicaid debt to hospitals.

The budget proposed for the rest of this fiscal year also includes $73 million to support the state’s Medicaid program and $956,000 for the Riverview Psychiatric Center.

Begin said Riverview needs the additional money because of an accounting error that dates to 2007 and 2008, when the state took six beds out of service at the hospital but continued to bill the federal government as if they were in use.

Once the mistake was caught, the state was held responsible for paying the money back. Because the state repaid the money, Riverview has fallen short of the operating funds it needs for the rest of this fiscal year.

Today, the committee will review the budget changes proposed for the State Planning Office, the Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Corrections and several other agencies. It is scheduled to be the final day of public hearings on the supplemental budget.

The state is projected to run out of money for Medicaid by mid-February because of increased enrollment, so the Appropriations Committee hopes to act quickly and move the budget to the House and Senate for approval, said House Chairman Patrick Flood, R-Winthrop.

 

MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover can contacted at 620-7015 or at: [email protected]