Portland mayor: MaineCare cuts will be devastating in state’s largest city

Portland Mayor Michael Brennan speaks to a reporter in front of City Hall on Nov. 15, 2011.
Portland Mayor Michael Brennan speaks to a reporter in front of City Hall on Nov. 15, 2011.
Posted Dec. 13, 2011, at 7:58 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — Mayor Michael Brennan plans to tell state lawmakers Wednesday that MaineCare cuts being proposed by Gov. Paul LePage will cripple city shelters, eject recovering substance abusers from their homes and threaten to close city clinics for the less fortunate.

In his first trip to advocate for Portland’s interests in Augusta since being sworn in as mayor on Dec. 5, Brennan is aiming to testify in a hearing before the Legislature’s Health and Human Services and Appropriations and Financial Affairs committees Wednesday.

“These cuts are going to have a direct impact on services Portland currently provides, and there are going to be thousands of Portland residents who will lose their health insurance,” Brennan told the Bangor Daily News Tuesday. “That means they’re going to have to turn to emergency rooms, general assistance or other places for their health care needs. These program cuts would be huge cost shifts to municipalities, and in particular service centers like Portland.”

Many advocates of reinstalling a publicly elected mayor in Portland envisioned just this sort of state-level debate as the kind a full-time city mayor might have an impact on — and Brennan said Tuesday his experiences as the past Senate chairman of both the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee and Blue Ribbon Commission on MaineCare leave him well-equipped to jump into the fray.

Brennan, whose election in November represented the first time Portland voters chose a mayor in 88 years, said he plans to reach out to leaders of other service center municipalities he feels may be disproportionately affected by the MaineCare cuts.

“I think it’s important to be able to articulate on a consistent basis how what’s going on in Augusta impacts the city of Portland or other similar municipalities,” Brennan said. “Having health coverage for people is a good thing. It’s good for the Maine economy, and it in no way, shape or form creates any dependency.”

Last week, LePage made headlines by announcing a plan to address a $120 million shortfall in the state Department of Health and Human Services budget by overhauling the MaineCare program, the state’s version of the federal Medicaid program. His proposal called for tightening eligibility requirements, eliminating services and repealing coverage entirely for thousands of MaineCare recipients to bring Maine’s program closer to national averages. The projected impact of the governor’s plan would be loss of health insurance coverage for 65,000 MaineCare recipients.

The administration has defended the cuts as necessary to curb spending on a program that has swelled beyond national averages and far beyond taxpayers’ ability to pay for it. Administration officials have noted that since 2002, Medicaid enrollment in Maine has grown by 78 percent while the state’s population has grown only 7 percent.

But Brennan plans to argue before lawmakers Wednesday that the trickle-down effect of LePage’s proposed overhaul in Portland will be crushing.

Included in the governor’s proposed reforms is the elimination of childless adult waivers in MaineCare, a step Brennan said would leave most of the 2,200 annual users of the city’s Health Care for the Homeless Clinic without means to pay for their medications, and stripping the clinic of that revenue could force it to close. Likewise, Brennan said many parents of children who use the Portland Community Health Center would lose coverage and threaten the center’s viability.

Brennan also plans to tell committee members that proposed cuts to targeted case management subsidies will leave nearly 440 families who access housing and work force stability assistance through the city’s Family Emergency Shelter, Oxford Street Shelter and Refugee Services Office without the help they need to find homes or jobs. He said without case management services available to help shelter residents get back on their feet, the number of homeless people putting demands on the city’s social services will increase.

Additionally, the mayor said he will argue that the elimination of private non-medical institutions from DHHS coverage will put residents of Serenity House, Milestone Foundation’s India Street facility, Opportunity Alliance and Shalom House out on the streets. Those facilities are geared specifically to help homeless people who are recovering from substance abuse or mental health problems.

Information from Bangor Daily News health editor Jackie Farwell and the Associated Press was used in this report.

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