AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage announced Thursday his administration will use $4.6 million in Medicaid savings to make additional payments to Maine’s 106 nursing homes — and he’ll do it without involving the Legislature.
The extra money will draw down federal matching funds of $8.5 million. Combined with state and federal money allocated by the Legislature this spring, Maine’s nursing homes will see a total of $25.4 million in extra revenue this fiscal year.
That’s going to go a long way to alleviate the roughly $30 million deficit in the nursing homes’ budgets, created by years of underpayment on Medicaid reimbursements, but LePage said it’s still just a stopgap solution.
“The problem is not solved. This is just bridge financing until we can get to the next Legislature,” the governor said at a news conference Thursday at the Maine Health Care Association office.
MaineCare has been reimbursing nursing homes based on their costs in 2005, leaving many facilities underfunded for the last several years. MaineCare covers nearly every resident at several homes, particularly in poor and rural areas, stretching bottom lines to the point of breaking.
The $4.6 million surplus was identified after the close of the 2014 fiscal year on June 30, said Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew, who joined LePage at the news conference.
Efforts to contain costs and streamline services in the $2.4 billion Medicaid program, known here as MaineCare, had resulted in the surplus, Mayhew said, though she did not say exactly which programs had seen annual costs fall below projections. She also said LePage’s decision not to expand Medicaid — over legislative Democrats’ wishes to do so — had contributed to the surplus.
“We are paying our bills on time, and we have stabilized the foundation of the MaineCare program,” Mayhew said. “Today I am extremely proud to report we’re no longer bailing out the boat. We are in fact charting a course. Today we are taking an important and critical step in meeting the needs of our elderly.”
LePage and top Democratic lawmakers have sparred over nursing homes since the regular legislative session ended in early May. Since the Legislature ended its session, nursing homes in Lubec and Pittsfield have announced the they will close, citing a lack of funding and patient vacancies for their demise.
Mary Ford, owner of Pittsfield Rehab & Nursing, said Thursday the new funding comes too late to save her 57-bed facility. The state already approved her plan to close the nursing home on Sept. 5, or even earlier if the few remaining residents find other placements soon.
“We have almost all of our residents discharged at this point,” she said.
Since May, the governor and other Republican leaders had repeatedly asked Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves and Senate President Justin Alfond to reconvene the Legislature and hammer out a plan to give more money to nursing homes.
Eves and Alfond have resisted the governor’s calls and accused him of using the nursing homes for election-year politics. The governor has the authority to convene the Legislature and can do so without their assistance, they said.
They also pointed out that the Democrat-controlled Legislature already approved more than $35 million in additional funding for the state’s nursing homes over the next three years — the first increase in nursing home spending in years. LePage did not support either of the bills that allocated that extra funding.
Democrats also had criticized LePage for requesting all 186 lawmakers return to Augusta — at a cost of up to $43,000 per day — before he’d even presented a draft bill for them to pass. Regardless, LePage said Thursday that after months of asking Democrats to come back to Augusta, he was taking a new approach.
“I’m not going to stand by anymore and listen to slick-talking politicians giving lip service. That time is over. We’re taking action, and the Legislature is not part of this solution,” he said.
On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, questioned why the governor criticized the Democrats so often for refusing to call a special legislative session if he didn’t need them in the first place.
“Why has he been carrying on about calling the Legislature in and making this a big thing about the Democrats?” Jackson said. “If he doesn’t need us, why is he making such a campaign-rhetoric deal?”
House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, also said the governor’s requests for a special session and attacks on Democrats were nothing but showboating.
“The governor’s announcement is more proof that he’s been playing politics with nursing homes. 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? … It’s smoke and mirrors,” Eves said in a prepared statement.
BDN Health Editor Jackie Farwell contributed to this report. Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.