Gov. Paul LePage today signed a revised state budget bill that eliminates health care coverage for more than 20,000 people, cuts prescription drug coverage for senior citizens and reduces funding for Head Start.
Adrienne Bennett, LePage’s spokeswoman, confirmed that the governor signed the bill early this morning.
The supplemental budget for the Department of Health and Human Services was enacted by the Legislature late Tuesday evening on a party line vote.
Republicans and the governor have argued that Supporters say the spending cuts are necessary to cover an $83 million deficit at DHHS through June 30, 2013, and put the state on a more stable financial path. MaineCare is the state’s Medicaid program.
The plan was opposed by Democrats and advocates for the poor, health groups and seniors. Opponents packed a State House hallway Tuesday to protest the cuts.
The Senate voted 19-16 along party lines on an initial vote, and the House voted 74-69, also along party lines. In final votes Tuesday night, the Senate passed the budget 19-14 and the House approved it 75-61.
Republicans acknowledged that the cuts were difficult but necessary to bring Maine more in line with what’s common in other states. The GOP argued that Maine spends $1,895 per MaineCare enrollee, while the national average is $1,187. Also, Maine is in the top five in the U.S. in the percentage of population on MaineCare, he said.
After passing five previous budgets with bipartisan support, the parties split on the final budget of this year. Democrats spoke at length to decry the impact of the cuts, saying that children who benefit from Head Start, and the elderly who need help paying for prescription drugs, will be hurt.
“It’s a bean-counter budget,” said Sen. Dawn Hill, D-York, an Appropriations Committee member. “It’s all about the numbers. It’s not about the people. It draws a line at a certain number with callous disregard for a person’s medical needs.”
With the budget out of the way lawmakers today are expected to vote this week on five separate bond bills that total more than $96 million. If approved, the borrowing proposals will go before voters in November.
It remains to be seen if LePage will approve any of the borrowing bills. He has said repeatedly that he wanted the DHHS budget buttoned up before he’d consider any spending plans.