Funding for Maine nursing homes has been held up for weeks because of Gov. LePage’s refusal to compromise.
But in the end, the governor’s shrewdness made up for his obstinacy, and Thursday he walked away with a victory, having apparently found the money, $4.6 million – savings, he said, from efficiencies in the MaineCare program.
That will be leveraged for an additional $8.5 million in federal funds, all for Maine’s struggling nursing homes, without the need to work through the Democratic-controlled Legislature that LePage is so critical of.
That LePage found the money at all speaks to his commitment to solving the nursing home funding shortfall.
That he’s doing it in a way that bypasses the Legislature, however, says he was determined to address the funding gap on his terms, when a compromise could have settled the issue weeks ago.
But that won’t make a difference as the governor ramps up his re-election bid, now making a somewhat misleading but nonetheless effective argument that he’d been there for nursing homes, and for Maine seniors, all along.
Perhaps Democrats should have seen this coming. Funding for nursing homes has been a goal of both parties, but Le-Page has made it clear throughout this debate that he wanted it on his terms.
After a nursing home in Calais closed in 2012, citing out-of-date reimbursement rates for MaineCare that have facilities losing as much as $20 per day per resident, a task force called for increased funding and updated rates.
Lawmakers responded last year with a budget that included $26 million in state and federal funding for nursing homes starting July 1, 2015.
Another bill, L.D. 1776, earmarked an additional $12 million for this fiscal year while mandating regular reimbursement rate increases. It became law without LePage’s signature.
Still, the funding fell far short of what was recommended by the task force. On the last day of the latest legislative session, after a nursing home in Lubec had announced that it, too, would be closing, LePage proposed $5 million in additional funding to leverage another $8 million in federal funding.
But Democrats disagreed with the governor’s plan to take that money from the Fund for a Healthy Maine, which supports smoking-cessation and education programs.
They promised a lower level of funding from a different source and set out to find a compromise with Republican lawmakers. The late-night negotiations were ended, however, when LePage sent word that he would veto anything but his original plan.
Since then, LePage has chastised Democrats for denying his proposal, and he’s brought the issue to the front of his re-election campaign. He’s scheduled nursing home visits. He used his latest weekly address to paint Democratic leaders as out of touch with rural interests, and to prod them to call a special legislative session to approve the funding.
The Democrats, however, had no reason to believe that a special session would have ended any differently from the regular session, with LePage refusing to yield and lawmakers going home without a resolution. Attempts by the Democrats to meet with the governor have been unsuccessful.
That all became moot with Thursday’s announcement, and when presenting his plan, LePage said the Legislature “is not part of the solution. It is part of the problem.”
Even the news release bypassed lawmakers, touting the total $25.4 million that nursing homes will receive, including the $12.3 million from L.D. 1776.
It is likely, though, that all this nuance will be lost on most voters, as LePage takes credit for both reducing the cost of MaineCare and saving nursing homes.Consider it a political win for the governor, and a delayed but much-needed victory for nursing homes.