Slashing $221 Million From Health Care Tops the Legislative Agenda
check-in with a few local legislators
Thursday, December 29, 2011 5:47 AM
Governor LePage's supplemental budget proposal to cut $221 million from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) received plenty of feedback from Maine people during three days of public hearings in mid-December. Maine legislators, who will return to Augusta next week, continue to face questions from concerned constituents.
Three local legislators, Senator Chris Rector (R-Thomaston), Michael Thibodeau (R-Winterport) and Representative Chuck Kruger (D-Thomaston) were home for the holidays and shared their views about what has become known as the MaineCare supplemental budget.
"The really big dollars in the state budget are in health and human services," said Senator Michael Thibodeau, who represents Waldo County.
"The cuts have to come out of that department," he said. "We have to balance the budget, so it is vitally important that we look at this proposal."
Thibodeau said he supports the bulk of the governor's proposals, but has concerns about the cuts to funding that allows low-income seniors and the disabled to remain in assisted-living facilities. Proposed cuts to PNMI (Private Non-Medical Institutions) would affect 4,000 elderly and disabled, according to the Maine Health Care Association.
Representative Chuck Kruger, who represents Owls Head, South Thomaston, St. George, Thomaston and Matinicus, said he finds it troubling that a supplemental budget proposing extreme cuts to MaineCare is being separated out from the state budget as a whole.
"We need to look at the entire budget at the same time," said Kruger.
Once the MaineCare supplemental budget is voted on in Augusta, a second supplemental budget for other departments will be introduced for another round of budget cuts.
"I fear that this is a trick," said Kruger, noting that MaineCare is being characterized as a program that helps people who don't need help. "There may be fraud, waste and abuse in MaineCare," he said. "Then, let's look at that. But there hasn't been much of a response about it from the (DHHS) Commissioner. There is not a lot of evidence that there are a lot of savings to be found from fraud.... I'm worried that this is more ideology driven than it is good fiscal management. I just don't buy the argument that people who are thrown off MaineCare will cost us less. It looks like they will cost us more in emergency room visits and arrests."
"There is no way I can vote for the supplemental as proposed by the governor," said Kruger. "But I do think the appropriations committee is a good group to deal with it. I know they're working hard and I believe they are working in good faith."
Senator Chris Rector, who represents Knox County, said he was not ready to make a statement about the MaineCare supplemental budget, except to say that it is a work in progress.