AUGUSTA — The Maine Sunday Telegram’s recent article on Maine’s commitment to individuals with an intellectual disability or autism is uninformed, misleading and beyond biased. (“Maine used to be a leader in caring for adults with intellectual handicaps. What went wrong?” Dec. 4)

While it is the newspaper’s prerogative to editorialize its opposition to the LePage administration, as it so routinely does, it is unacceptable and wrong to publish a news article that needlessly frightens families and vulnerable individuals by twisting and clouding the truth.

The assertion that the Department of Health and Human Services has reduced funding for, or focus on, services for individuals with an intellectual disability or autism is false. In fact, the opposite is true. We have increased funding by over $70 million over the last five years.

From the earliest days of the LePage administration, we have endeavored to refocus MaineCare spending on Maine’s neediest and most vulnerable – specifically, our state’s elderly and those with disabilities. The governor and I have made meeting the needs of this population a core priority as we have returned fiscal stability to the state budget and worked to align our limited resources to our most vulnerable populations.

We have been consistent in our words and in our actions. Previous administrations successfully supported massive expansions in MaineCare that dramatically increased the number of nondisabled adults on the program, led to a program in a constant state of financial crisis and created massive annual shortfalls, to the detriment of elderly and disabled Mainers.

Despite what this newspaper would have readers believe, the LePage administration’s commitment to Mainers with severe disabilities remains strong and unwavering. Consider the facts:

• Section 21 and Section 29 are the policy sections that create support for individuals with disabilities.

• From fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2016, DHHS has increased funding for Section 21 group-home and Section 29 in-home services from $278 million in 2011 to $350 million in 2016. The number of adults served under those sections of policy has increased from 4,128 to 4,882 in the same time period.

• DHHS has eliminated the waitlist for Section 29 Supports Waiver.

• Gov. LePage included a funding increase of more than $40 million to address the Section 21 waitlist in his fiscal years 2016-2017 biennial budget proposal. While the Legislature only supported $14 million of that increase in their final budget, DHHS has used those dollars to provide additional services to 200 individuals, removing them from the waitlist.

• Maine spends more per person on these services than 48 other states. Most states spend an average of half of what Maine provides for the same services for the same level of need in the population served.

Even considering these advances, it is important to consider the following context within the debate about funding for services to the intellectually and developmentally disabled. Unfortunately, the Press Herald article ignores any such context.

The annual cost to serve an individual with intellectual and developmental disabilities in a group home is typically between $130,000 and $160,000. Dollars for these essential services add up quickly, and Maine’s resources to fund them are finite and limited by the amount set by the Legislature. That is why the LePage administration has maintained a determined focus on shifting MaineCare’s prioritization to our state’s neediest and most vulnerable. It is why we have implemented common-sense reforms, such as proposing that providers only bill for the amount of services they provide. And it is why we have adamantly opposed MaineCare expansion.

This newspaper ignores fiscal reality by strongly advocating for the expansion of the Medicaid program to 100,000 nondisabled, nonelderly individuals at a state cost of more than $400 million in the next five years. By contrast, the LePage administration has not only opposed that expansion to protect resources for our most vulnerable, but has also significantly increased that financial support by successfully prioritizing taxpayer resources.

We’ve moved from the crisis-oriented financial management that dominated DHHS for more than a decade to create a stable financial foundation. We have reined in the out-of-control spending that failed to prioritize our neediest, exacerbated Maine’s tax burden and distorted other state priorities because of the annual shortfall in the DHHS budget.

As a result of improved financial management and prioritization, Gov. LePage will be able to include additional funding for Section 21 services when he submits his biennial budget proposal to the Legislature next month. From there, it will be up to legislators to uphold those funding increases and help the LePage administration continue to support services to individuals with an intellectual disability or autism in our state.

We hope that they will do the right thing and support Maine’s disabled and elderly.

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