Good morning from Augusta. We hope you shoveled, scraped or salted in a timely fashion. Here’s your soundtrack.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “The problem, to be honest, is that the Republicans are so far from what the president proposed it’s hard to figure out how that gap can be sufficiently narrowed,” Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, told Maine Public about prospects for a coronavirus relief bill. He doubts the eventual package will be bipartisan.
What we’re watching today
Maine may crack down on hospitals that give COVID-19 vaccines outside the state’s plan, but the tough rhetoric comes late in the game. Attorney General Aaron Frey warned providers in a Tuesday memo that administering the vaccine to people ineligible under state guidelines could get a provider removed from the state’s vaccination program or result in criminal charges or civil penalties.
The move comes weeks after MaineHealth, the state’s largest hospital system, gave vaccines to out-of-state consultants hired to discourage nurses from unionizing and MaineGeneral offered early vaccinations to donors. Frey referenced both of those incidents in a release, saying providers were “put on notice” that they must follow state requirements.
Health care providers in other states have faced fines or criminal penalties for offering vaccines to ineligible people, though most states have tried to balance the desire to target vaccinations for the neediest populations with concerns that leftover vaccinations could get thrown out. Punishing providers is also dicey because it could slow down vaccination efforts.
Frey’s statement, though firm, does not come off as sharply as those in other states. Embattled New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, for instance, proposed a $1 million fine on providers who administer vaccines to people not eligible under the state’s plan.
For now, demand for vaccines in Maine continues to far exceed supply since the state extended eligibility to residents age 70 and older nearly a month ago. Public-facing health care workers, first responders, residents and staff of long-term care facilities and certain other COVID-19 response workers are also eligible.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Facing rebuke over Trump vote, Susan Collins says GOP should focus on growing ranks,” Caitlin Andrews, BDN: “Responding to the party criticisms for the first time on Tuesday, [U.S. Sen. Susan] Collins said in a statement that ‘there is room for people who disagree with one another in our party.’ She noted her rarity in New England as the last Republican in federal office, something she said her party should fix while uniting around principles and not figures.”
The Maine Republican Party drafted a letter to Collins rebuking her vote ‘in the strongest possible terms’ while seeking to keep relations with her. The draft letter, which was sent to state committee members on Tuesday night and is being published first in the Daily Brief, notes that the conservative grassroots is “almost universally outraged” at the vote but counterbalances that somewhat with praise for “the considerable support that you have provided for not only the Maine Republican Party, but for our County Committees and our candidates across the state.” Demi Kouzounas, the state party chair, gave committee members until 3 p.m. Wednesday to sign onto the letter, which was drafted at the request of county party chairs.
— “Mainers say they’ll get COVID-19 vaccine at one of the highest rates in US,” Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News: “About 62 percent of Maine adults who have not yet received the vaccine say they definitely plan to get vaccinated, according to a survey the U.S. Census Bureau conducted over several weeks in January and early February. That share was eighth highest among states. Another 18.6 percent of Mainers said they would probably take the vaccine once it is available to them.”
Top Democrats’ push for a ‘COVID-19 Patient Bill of Rights’ gets a public hearing on Wednesday. The bill from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, and co-sponsored by House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, would require insurers to cover COVID-19 tests and vaccinations while waiving any copayments related to them. Many tests are now free to Mainers under a standing state order and vaccines distributed by the federal government are given at no cost to recipients, but the bill looks to establish that as an ongoing standard.
— “Aroostook town declares itself a Second Amendment sanctuary,” Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli, BDN: “Modeled after immigration sanctuary cities, Second Amendment sanctuaries are popping up around the nation with more than 1,200 jurisdictions in 37 states. … In states like North Carolina, nearly two-thirds of the jurisdictions are Second Amendment sanctuaries.”
Public hearings on 2-year budget begin today
The lengthy process begins today, after a short delay, with the second-most expensive part of the budget and various other agencies. The Department of Health and Human Services takes up 33 percent of Gov. Janet Mills’ $8.4 billion two-year budget proposal. The overall package is mostly flat with current spending, but constitutes an increase over the last budget approved in 2019. Hearings start with that part of the budget.
Taking up most of the agenda will be discussions about provider rate payments, an annual subject in the state and one Maine is currently evaluating. Rates will be scrutinized even more this year as the state faces a budget shortfall that it must address.
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Jessica Piper, Caitlin Andrews and Michael Shepherd. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, you can sign up to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning here.
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