AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — After weeks of wrangling with Democrats over funding for nursing homes, Gov. Paul LePage announced Thursday that Maine's roughly 100 facilities will get an additional $13.1 million this fiscal year through an arrangement that doesn't require the Legislature's approval.
The Republican governor's administration said it identified $4.6 million in savings within the Department of Health and Human Services, which will draw down $8.5 in federal dollars to increase Medicaid reimbursements to the facilities. That comes on top of $12.3 million in state and federal dollars they were already set to receive this year under a bill that the Democratic-controlled Legislature approved last session.
Officials representing the long-underfunded facilities said that wasn't enough. Since lawmakers left in May, LePage and GOP lawmakers have urged Democratic leaders to haul lawmakers back to Augusta to pass a $5 million bill to fix the existing shortfall. In the meantime, two nursing homes have announced they will soon shutter their doors.
LePage said Thursday that his administration won't "stand by anymore and listen to slick-talking politicians giving lip service."
"That time is over. We are taking action. And the Legislature isn't part of this solution. They are part of the problem," he said.
Democrats defied LePage's calls to reconvene the Legislature, saying he had the power to call them into a special session. They said his latest announcement is more proof that LePage, who is running for re-election this November, is using nursing homes as a political tool and trying to take cover for his policies that they say have hurt Maine seniors.
"Why would he sit on $4.6 million in savings, when nursing homes were struggling? And why would he call on lawmakers to return to Augusta when he already had the funding?" Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick said in a statement.
Nursing homes are currently reimbursed by the state for residents in the Medicaid program based on their expenditures in 2005 and have received only one slight cost-of-living boost in the last several years, according to the Maine Health Care Association. The measures that Democrats approved last session require the state to reallocate funding based on more recent expenditures.
The bipartisan budget-writing committee spiked LePage's original proposal in the final hours of the session after it was told he would veto it if amended. That would have used $5 million of tobacco settlement funds, which are meant for anti-smoking campaigns.
LePage and DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew said new proposal does not require legislative approval because it is reallocating money within the department. It is using money left over at the end of the fiscal year — which ended in June — that came from initiatives that improved efficiencies in the Medicaid program.
Mayhew said the state must develop a long-term solution to deal with its rapidly aging population. Maine's median age of 43.5 years is the highest in the country. It is more than six years older than the U.S. median age of 37.4 years.
"We have got to continue to work ... to effectively build and plan for a system that will meet the needs of this population," Mayhew said.
The Legislature also approved a supplemental budget — which LePage vetoed — that includes $5 million for nursing home reimbursements in the budget year that begins next June and $5 million the following year.
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