LePage to unveil plan to give more money to Maine’s nursing homes

Posted July 17, 2014, at 11:49 a.m.
Last modified July 17, 2014, at 4:08 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage will announce a plan on Thursday afternoon to give additional state funding to Maine’s struggling nursing homes.

It’s unclear exactly how much funding will be announced, or its source, but it appears that LePage and Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew may have identified a way to allocate money to nursing homes without the approval of the Legislature.

LePage and Mayhew, along with Rick Erb, president and CEO of the Maine Health Care Association, will unveil the plan at a 1 p.m. news conference at the group’s offices in Augusta.

The Republican governor and top Democratic lawmakers have sparred over nursing homes since the regular legislative session ended in early May. A day before the session was scheduled to end, LePage submitted a plan to shift $5 million in funding designated for preventive health programs to the state’s nursing homes.

Democrats opposed plans to divert money from the account, called the Fund for a Healthy Maine, as members of the Appropriations Committee were hammering out a plan to use other state funds for the nursing homes. After working through the night, appropriators were informed that LePage would veto their new proposal, so top lawmakers in both parties chose to kill the bills and end the session rather than deal with LePage’s veto pen.

Since then, LePage and other Republican leaders repeatedly have 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.

Since the Legislature closed, nursing homes in Lubec and Pittsfield have shut their doors, citing a lack of funding and patient vacancies for their demise.

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 reconvene the Legislature, and can do so without their assistance, they have said.

They also point 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.

New legislation also requires the state to reset reimbursement rates every two years to levels that better reflect nursing homes’ actual costs. Nursing homes where more than 70 percent of residents are covered by MaineCare would receive modest supplemental payments on a sliding scale.

LePage did not support either of the bills that created that extra funding.

MaineCare has been reimbursing nursing homes based on their costs from 2005, leaving many facilities underfunded for the last several years. This has led to $30 million in accumulated underpayments statewide. MaineCare covers nearly every resident at several homes, particularly in poor and rural areas, stretching bottom lines to the point of breaking.

Check bangordailynews.com for updates. Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.

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