May 18, 2013

LePage to Democrats: Act now, or bankrupt DHHS

But Democrats accuse the department of mismanagement and say they won't approve funds until Commissioner Mary Mayhew answers 'tough questions.'

By Michael Shepherd
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA – Blasting Democrats in the Legislature, Gov. Paul LePage said Friday that Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services will run out of money to pay Medicaid providers in three weeks if lawmakers don’t act to approve a new state budget.

click image to enlarge

Mary Mayhew, commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, says her department will run out of money in three weeks if a new budget isn't approved.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Related Documents

PDF: LePage's letter to Democrats
PDF: Mary Mayhew's letter to Gov. LePage

LePage’s statement, made in a letter late Friday to House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, and Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, prompted Democrats to accuse the administration of “mismanagement” of the DHHS.

Democrats summoned DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew to an emergency meeting of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee at 1:30 p.m. Sunday to answer “tough questions” about her department’s precarious finances, said Jodi Quintero, Eves’ spokeswoman.

In his letter to Eves and Alfond, LePage said, “Democratic leadership is engaging in Washington-style politics” – putting off action on the budget – while “a crisis is looming that will affect our most needy citizens.”

An accompanying letter from Mayhew to LePage says “beginning the week of June 10, our ability to pay the providers to who help us deliver vital services to our members is in serious jeopardy.”

She said money must be allocated to her department by May 28 to pay providers.

LePage has said since February that the DHHS could run out of money before the end of this fiscal year, June 30, but Quintero said the latest announcement concerns Democratic leaders, “who continue to have concerns about the mismanagement of the department.”

“The timing and intent of this letter is questionable,” Eves said in a prepared statement. “It seems more geared toward fear-mongering than problem-solving.”

David Heidrich, a spokesman for LePage’s budget department, has said that changes the administration proposed earlier this month in the state’s next two-year budget revealed that the DHHS will need another $35 million for the current fiscal year, largely to pay for MaineCare.

The administration’s latest plan calls for using most of $43 million in higher-than-expected tax revenues – which was expected to be available for the next budget ą to fund MaineCare through June 30.

Cost overruns have long plagued MaineCare. In November, the DHHS announced that it was projecting a $100 million shortfall in the program. That was the main reason for passage of a supplemental budget earlier this year.

That budget passed without approval from LePage, who said some of his funding requests for DHHS were ignored. He said then that the department could need additional funding before the end of the fiscal year.

“Effectively, they did not balance the budget back then,” said Adrienne Bennett, spokeswoman for LePage.

The Democrats, who have majorities in the House and Senate, could pass the Republican governor’s proposed two-year budget, but some big items in it are unpalatable to most legislators – particularly a more-than $200 million suspension of revenue sharing to cities and towns.

The Legislature has no complete alternative to that budget yet, though Quintero said the Appropriations Committee has agreed on most of the individual items.

The administration could come back to the Legislature with another supplemental budget to fund MaineCare, the state’s version of Medicaid.

It hasn’t done so yet, Bennett said, because “we’re believing that they are going to take action in good faith to resolve this before then.”

She wouldn’t give a time frame for when it would propose a supplemental budget.

In his letter, LePage pressed Democrats to pass his plan to pay Maine’s $186 million share of debt to its hospitals, which is linked to revenue from the state’s next wholesale liquor contract.

In recent weeks, Democrats have linked that proposal to expansion of Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act. But LePage has blamed cost overruns on Maine’s earlier expansion of MaineCare, a program he believes is too large and generous.

He and Republicans say the repayment and expansion issues are separate, while Democrats say expanding the program would ensure that thousands more Mainers receive health care and increase patient volume for hospitals.

Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 370-7652 or at:

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

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