Maine panel endorses $30 million budget fix

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AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Lawmakers on Maine’s budget-writing committee reached a deal early Wednesday that would close a $30 million budget hole next fiscal year and reduce the number of people on wait lists for services in the state’s Medicaid program, a backlog that has long been a source of contention in the Democrat-controlled Legislature.

The funding measure unanimously approved by the Appropriations Committee after an all-night session closes a Medicaid shortfall for the fiscal year that ends June 30, 2015, and adds $5 million annually toward slashing the wait lists that have caused people with disabilities to go without access to home-based care services.

The funding could eliminate one waiting list of more than 400 people and trim 25 off another that has more than 900, according to the Office of Fiscal and Program Review.

Sen. Pat Flood, a Republican on the committee who spearheaded the wait-list plan, praised the panel’s ability to find significant ongoing funding to support a population that greatly needs access to appropriate care.

“I’ve never had the opportunity to something that was this significant,” the Republican from Winthrop said.

To reduce the wait list, lawmakers propose using funds freed up because of changes in the state’s Medicaid program, which removed thousands of parents from its rolls. The budget bill would be funded through a variety of other means, including transferring unused funds from the now-defunct Dirigo Health Program and extending the cycle of Medicaid payments to health care providers.

Gov. Paul LePage blasted the deal, saying that lawmakers are “playing games” by trying to balance the budget by delaying payments to the hospitals.

“That’s purely unacceptable financing to me. You pay your bills when they’re due and you take appropriate action to make sure the funds are available,” he said.

The legislative measure also includes another $5 million annually for Maine’s nursing homes. The money would be directed toward nursing homes with high Medicaid populations that are struggling to keep their doors open, said Rep. Peggy Rotundo.

“We have been very concerned about the struggle that many nursing homes in the state are experiencing, particularly in rural areas,” said Rotundo, a Democrat from Lewiston and the committee co-chair.

The House and Senate are expected to vote on the bill as early as next week before it’s sent to LePage, who has taken a hands-off approach to the supplemental budget-writing process this session.

The Republican governor refused to introduce a supplemental budget - a move that is considered to be unprecedented - after lawmakers overrode his veto of the state’s $6.3 billion, two-year budget last year. LePage allowed a separate funding bill that would close a $40 million budget gap this year and an $18 million gap next year into law without his signature.

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Follow Alanna Durkin on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aedurkin

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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