AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage has indicated that he doesn’t support the bipartisan budget compromise unanimously supported Wednesday by the Legislature’s budget committee. He also said he’ll keep lawmakers in Augusta for months to fix it if he has to.
“If they try to do what they’ve done for the last three years, they will be here until Election Day because I will call them back every day to fill the hole in the budget,” said LePage during a press conference on Wednesday. “They are playing games.”
Though LePage was not specific about his opposition to the supplemental budget bill, he did bring up a provision that lawmakers are proposing to fill an estimated $20 million of the $30 million projected shortfall in fiscal year 2015. The measure would delay Medicaid payments to hospitals and other providers, depending on the timing of providers’ claims, by a week to 10 days. That would push one of the payments from June 2015 to July 2015. This would permanently alter the payment schedule so they would get future reimbursements about one week later than currently scheduled.
Because the payment schedule would be permanent, it would not create a budget hole in fiscal year 2016, like push payments that have been used by past Legislatures to balance budgets.
LePage sees it as victimizing hospitals and health care providers just months after the state paid them hundreds of millions of dollars of Medicaid money they were owed from past years.
“We spent 3½ years to get a plan so we can pay our hospitals, now they’re telling me you will delay payments to the hospitals,” said LePage. “That’s unacceptable. … It’s sad. It’s really sad and it’s disheartening.”
Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, co-chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said she was disappointed with the governor’s statements because the committee worked with the Department of Health and Human Services on the measure and that the LePage administration didn’t voice opposition to the plan during the public hearing process.
However, DHHS did raise concerns, according to written testimony to the committee earlier this month.
“While we cannot speak in support of this specific proposal, the department has evaluated this idea as a potential management tool to ensure funding is available in a given year to pay all of our bills,” said Sam Adolphsen, the department’s deputy finance director. “We have determined that some claims could be successfully aged, making sure that the bills are ultimately paid, but on a slower schedule than current practice. … Our choice not to endorse this proposal is based on this administration’s strong focus on paying our bills to providers in a timely fashion, as has been illustrated in our efforts to eliminate hospital debt and to pay bills on real-time basis.”
Furthermore, she said the proposal includes provisions under which DHHS can exempt certain Medicaid service providers from the later payments if they would be hurt.
“It’s fiscally responsible to pay our bills within a 24-day period,” said Rotundo. “We spent a lot of time looking at this proposal because we didn’t want to harm providers. … We are not talking about a system where people are not paid for years. We’re talking about a system where people will definitely be paid within a month.”
Rotundo said under the proposal, the payments would be made well within strict federal rules around the issue.
The budget bill recommended Wednesday by the Appropriations Committee hasn’t been published yet and isn’t expected to be voted on in the Legislature until next week. If LePage vetoes it, the fate of the bill will depend on at least two-thirds of lawmakers voting to override the veto.
Rep. Ken Fredette, R-Newport, said there are other provisions in the budget that many Republicans will heartily support, including a plan to reduce waitlists for people with developmental disabilities and provide more funding to nursing homes. He also said the unanimous report of the Appropriations Committee likely would garner Republican support for the overall bill, possibly enough to achieve a veto override.
“That will carry some weight within the caucus,” said Fredette. “We’re continuing to discuss it to get a sense for the details of the bill.”
LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said LePage hasn’t made any final decisions about the bill and that he will study it in detail when it comes to his desk after the Legislature enacts it.
“This is all about financial stability and making sure our bills are paid on time,” she said. “We’re not going back to the old ways of accumulating debt. This is the same message he’s been driving upstairs [in the House and Senate] for three years.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story inaccurately stated that officials from the LePage administration did not oppose delaying Medicaid payments during the public hearing process.