Fresh off his most recent trip to Washington, D.C., Gov. Paul LePage hit the airwaves Tuesday to accuse the Obama administration of decertifying the Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta in retaliation for not accepting millions of federal dollars to expand Medicaid. The governor said that when Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew told Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price that the decertification was politically motivated, “their jaws hit the floor.”

“This was a move by the Obama administration to poke us in the eye,” said LePage, “and we believe that it was nothing but a political move and there’s plenty of evidence and they’re going to research that and … I’m going to predict that they’re going to be sensible, commonsense people and we’re going to get Riverview re-certified.”

In 2013, Riverview Psychiatric Hospital — which houses patients with severe, persistent mental illness — was decertified after federal inspections discovered problems with the safety at the facility, including inadequate staffing and the use of corrections officers to control patients with stun guns, pepper spray and handcuffs. Facing the loss of millions of federal dollars, the LePage administration appealed the decision, but a U.S. district judge rejected the case in 2015. Last year, Judge Daniel Wathen, the court master assigned to oversee the welfare of patients at the facility, issued a report noting that the hospital had failed to make the changes it had promised to make. However, in January of this year, Wathen told lawmakers that the facility has made “significant progress” and that staffing problems and incidents of patient restraint and seclusion had decreased.

The governor did not offer any evidence that the decertification was politically motivated, but in an interview with the Portland Press Herald later that day, Commissioner Mayhew said, “What we have experienced is repeated resistance to the reforms that we have been advancing in this administration, hostility towards the state because we’ve opposed and rejected expansion. It’s one office down in Boston that we certainly have seen considerable resistance and opposition to our efforts in Maine to restore integrity to these programs, to effectively manage these programs and to certainly make sure our finances are in order in the best interests of the state.”

Time will tell whether the Trump administration buys the duo’s argument. 

Medicaid Lobbying

Meanwhile, LePage is continuing to lobby the Trump administration and members of Congress to freeze Medicaid spending immediately and implement work requirements for low-income people who receive the benefit. Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan’s plan, which LePage has dubbed “RINOCare” (“Republican In Name Only), would phase out Medicaid expansion after 2020 and cap future spending, effectively eliminating Medicaid coverage for 4 to 6 million low-income people. The governor, who has vetoed five attempts to expand Medicaid in Maine, has expressed fears that an upcoming November referendum to expand MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program, could be successful.

In his latest argument against Medicaid expansion, Le-Page argues that thousands of people dropped employer-sponsored insurance to go on MaineCare after the state expanded Medicaid for childless adults who were below the poverty level in 2002. 

“We in Maine have over 100,000 people who have given up their commercial employer-sponsored insurance to get on Medicaid because it’s free,” LePage said in a March 9 radio appearance. “And my point to Speaker Ryan is ‘free is expensive to somebody.’” 

However, a 2010 report by the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service concluded that there was “no evidence” that Medicaid expansion led low-income Mainers to drop employer-sponsored coverage for MaineCare and noted that employer coverage for poor childless adults actually increased from 11.5 to 17.4 percent during that time. The report noted that the prospects for the 19,300 MaineCare-eligible adults to obtain private insurance were “dim” because of rising premium costs, reductions in employer-based coverage and the contraction of the indvidual insurance market.

 


While LePage said he was able to meet with members of the Trump administration and Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul, Speaker Ryan reportedly snubbed the governor while he was down in Washington. LePage said that the only member of Maine’s delegation who has called him is 2nd District Congressman Bruce Poliquin, who says he is currently still studying the Ryan plan. 

“They’re all self-preservationists,” complained LePage. “It’s not about good public policy, and that’s what’s sad about both Congress and the Legislature in Maine. It’s about getting re-elected, not about doing what’s right.”

The governor said that the Trump administration likes what he has done with the state’s public assistance programs, which has included eliminating Medicaid coverage for 40,000 people, food and shelter assistance for 16,000 children and food assistance for another 40,000 Mainers. 

“In fact, they’ve asked us to send them a white paper so that they can take a look at it and see if we can’t bring some of those issues to the national level,” LePage said.

Drug Treatment is “Free” ?!

Later in the WVOM interview, guest host Amanda Cost said a woman from the Penobscot Nation Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Advocacy Center had asked about how uninsured people with addictions can get access to drug treatment. 

“They just go to the methadone clinic that have a clinical aspect and it’s free,” said the governor — falsely.

Cost, who is the facilities director at the Spruce Run-WomanCare Alliance, an organization assisting victims of domestic violence, replied that there aren’t enough treatment services to meet the need. 

“Oh, so you’re saying that we have to put more money into it? So when is it enough money to solve this problem?” replied the governor, who has cut state funding to methadone clinics. “If somebody could tell me that, then we’ll have that debate.”

LePage went on to complain that Democrats have been uncooperative with him, despite having passed his plan to provide more funding to hire judges, prosecutors and drug enforcement agents last year. He added that they only caved to his demand to provide funding for a 200-bed drug treatment facility at the prison in Windham because it was an election year.

“And now they turn around and say, ‘Oh it’s the governor, it’s the governor, it’s the governor,’” said LePage. “No, it’s not the governor.”

He informed Cost that if the Penobscot tribe has a problem with domestic violence, “then let us in and we’ll take care of it because we can put ’em in jail and while they’re in jail we can put ’em into a rehab program in the jail.” The governor didn’t elaborate on what to do with the uninsured people with addictions who haven’t committed crimes.

In a statement, Senate Democratic Leader Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook Cty.) said that he’s met the governor several times this year to discuss the drug crisis and he’s never mentioned county jails or prisons.

“To say Democrats aren’t open to any and all serious ideas to fight the drug crisis alongside the law enforcement community is a lie, plain and simple,” said Jackson. “Last year, Democrats supported, and passed, a Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program sponsored by Sen. Mark Dion, which empowers county sheriffs and other law enforcement agencies to funnel low-level offenders into treatment. It was a serious plan that earned the support of both parties. Half-baked ideas and chatter from the governor are not the same thing as legitimate legislation. Our drug crisis is growing because of a lack of opportunity, a lack of hope and a lack of health care and treatment. The governor could be working to address those deficits. Instead, he’s spending his time hobnobbing in Washington and throwing partisan bombs on talk radio.” 

As for whether the governor will make a run for the US Senate next year against Independent Sen. Angus King, Le-Page told WGAN that he hasn’t made a decision.

“Right now my issue is that I want to get this budget passed,” he said. “Once that’s passed and we have a … biennial budget, then I can start looking and my wife and I can start talking about what we want to do when we grow up.”