PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - Gov. Janet Mills’ office on Tuesday called lawmakers’ failed attempt to ensure additional $1 million in funding for nursing homes a “political act with no productive goal.”
Lawmakers in the final hours of this year’s session passed $1 million in Medicaid funding for nursing homes, on top of $8.5 million in state funding in Mills’ budget and $11 million in other funds that Mills used to provide cost-of-living increases. But Mills held up the $1 million funding bill over concerns that Maine would exceed federal limits on payments to providers and jeopardize millions in federal Medicaid funding.
The funding issue comes at a time when the number of nursing homes has dropped from 102 in 2017 to 94, according to state data. Nursing homes have received annual cost-of-living increases since 2014, but leaders of the homes say such payments haven’t kept up with voter-approved minimum wage increases.
Democrats and Republicans passed a joint order during Monday’s special session to recall the bill from Mills’ desk in hopes of fixing it. But a Senate Republican spokesman said that Mills’ office made clear she wouldn’t release the bill.
Assistant Senate Republican Leader Jeff Timberlake said it “bothers” him that the Democratic governor declined to release the bill, which is expected when both chambers pass such a joint order.
“I don’t have a high-powered attorney to fight it,” Timberlake said on the Senate floor Monday night.
On Tuesday, Mills’ spokeswoman said her administration is identifying solutions and planning to work with lawmakers on a new bill addressing the nursing home workforce in January.
“Despite knowing the administration is working to fix the issue, the Legislature pushed forward with a rushed attempt to recall the original, flawed bill without consulting the Department of Health and Human Services and without offering a fix for this complicated problem,” wrote Mills spokeswoman Lindsay Crete in an email. “The request to recall the bill was a political act with no productive goal.”
There aren’t records over the last 20 years of governors refusing to give back a bill that the Legislature has attempted to recall, according to the Maine State Law and Legislative Reference Library.
But Mills’ office said the Legislature’s joint order Monday has “no legal effect.”
The underlying funding issue boils down to a disagreement over whether the state can simply limit payments to nursing facilities to remain below federal limits.
“The department would lower payments to make sure they don’t go above the upper payment limit,” said Luke Lazure, a health care policy analyst for the Legislature’s non-partisan Office of Fiscal and Program Review. “That’s how we interpret that language.”
Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew, meanwhile, has argued this year that the $1 million bill would jeopardize federal funding because of the way that Maine currently calculates federal payment limits.
“The state would have had to make up for that loss with general fund dollars,” Crete said. “The Legislature did not allocate any contingency funding to compensate for this loss.”
Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Nate Libby said late Monday that he shares the “disappointment” over the funding bill, which is in limbo until lawmakers return in January.
Libby said he hopes that some funding could be released this fall and that lawmakers will pass a bill in January to address the “funding shortfall.”
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