January 9, 2013

Feds approve LePage cuts to health care for low-income Mainers

The federal government's split decision preserves health coverage for some, but will reduce or eliminate coverage for up to 20,000 low-income Mainers.

(Continued from page 1)

Today's poll: Health insurance cuts

Do you agree with the federal government’s ruling on Gov. LePage’s efforts to cut some health-insurance programs for low-income Mainers?

Yes

No, federal government was too harsh

No, federal government was too lenient

View Results

click image to enlarge

Mary Mayhew, Gov. Paul LePage's Dept. of Health and Human Services commissioner.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

click image to enlarge

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, with President Barack Obama, during a February news conference in Washington.

AP photo

In the Maine Legislature, Democratic and Republican leaders issued written statements Tuesday criticizing different aspects of the federal waivers.

“While Gov. LePage has permission to take health care away from seniors and people with disabilities, it doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do,” said Sen. Dawn Hill, D-York, Senate chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee. “No senior should have to choose between filing their prescriptions or putting food on the table.”

Hill said Democrats will follow up with federal officials to better understand the decision.

“I am very disappointed with Secretary Sebelius’s decision on the Medicaid waivers,” said Senate Minority Leader Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport. “While some of the Governor’s requests were granted, the refusal to authorize all of them will make it even more difficult to balance our state budget.”

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, engaged in a public debate with LePage over the legality of the cuts. On Tuesday, she said the Obama administration did the right thing.

“Especially in this weak economy, now is not the right time to pull the rug out from under people who are struggling to get by,” Pingree said in a written statement.

Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, majority share owner of the Portland Press Herald.

Medicaid has emerged as one of the top fiscal concerns for states nationwide.

Maine was one of 10 states where spending on Medicaid and other health care programs was over budget, according to a survey of state fiscal officers released last month by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

States are bearing a bigger share of the cost than the federal government because of the absence of federal aid that was offered to states during the recession. In 2011, state expenditures on Medicaid nationwide increased by 22.2 percent while federal spending fell 7.1 percent.

In Maine, the overall Medicaid budget grew by less $16 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2012, but the amount of state funding required grew from $526 million to $776 million, roughly 48 percent, Mayhew said.

Advocates for low-income families, seniors and others affected by the cuts reacted strongly on Tuesday.

“The LePage administration has been determined to eliminate access to health care for thousands of Maine families,” said Sara Gagne-Holmes, executive director of Maine Equal Justice Partners, in a written statement. “The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has rightly rejected major parts of his plan as illegal.”

Lori Parham, state director of AARP Maine, said her organization is “deeply concerned” about the impact of the cuts on seniors and disabled people who are barely making ends meet.

“Older and disabled Mainers, many of whom are already struggling to pay fuel and food costs, must have access to their life-saving medications,” Parham said in a written statement. “Cutting the (Medicare Savings Plan) will be nothing short of devastating for many of Maine’s at-risk residents.”

All current MaineCare cases will be reviewed for other Medicaid eligibility, and members will receive letters notifying them of the change in benefits.

All questions about the reductions will be answered at (800) 977-6740, TTY 711.

Changes in the Medicare Savings Plan or Drugs for the Elderly will vary from person to person, Mayhew said. Staffing will be increased to answer questions at (800) 442-6003.
 

 

Washington Bureau Chief Kevin Miller and State House Bureau Writer Steve Mistler contributed to this report.

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:
kbouchard@pressherald.com

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Today's poll: Health insurance cuts

Do you agree with the federal government’s ruling on Gov. LePage’s efforts to cut some health-insurance programs for low-income Mainers?

Yes

No, federal government was too harsh

No, federal government was too lenient

View Results