Tuesday, December 10, 2013
AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage's proposal to ask the federal government to allow Maine to reduce eligibility for Medicaid is "illegal" and isn't the answer to Maine's budget crisis, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, said this morning.
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree and Gov. Paul LePage.
After a meeting with LePage in the Cabinet Room, Pingree said based on her extensive talks with federal human services officials, the waivers LePage is seeking won't be granted.
"The routes he's taking are illegal and ineligible under the law," she said. "We don't see a route that he's planning that will actually work to solve this problem. We did offer to help the governor in other ways, any way we can possibly help to bring more federal dollars into the state."
LePage proposed seeking three waivers from federal requirements as part of his plan to close a $220 million gap in funding at the state Department of Health and Human Services. The waivers make up about $37 million of that total.
LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett described the meeting as positive and said that the governor is awaiting legislative action to see whether some or all of the waiver requests are part of the budget approved by the Legislature. She said administration officials are hoping to begin preliminary discussions with federal HHS officials today.
Bennett disputed Pingree's assertion that the proposal is illegal.
"This is not an illegal proposal," she said. "As soon as we have confirmation from the Appropriations Committee we'll move forward.
"We are confident that the governor will have talks with Secretary (Kathleen) Sebelius to talk about the financial situation we are facing," Bennett said. "We'll have to wait to see what those conversations bring."
Pingree said the Affordable Care Act passed by Congress prevents states from dropping people from coverage before the federal government begins to provide full funding in 2014. As a former Democratic state legislator, said she understands the state is in a fiscal crisis. But she disagreed with LePage's continued characterization of Medicaid as a welfare program.
"I think in some ways he and others want to characterize this as a welfare program, but frankly it's a basic safety net for people," she said. "It's how doctors, nurses and hospitals get paid."