Sunday, May 19, 2013
BY KEVIN MILLER
WASHINGTON -- U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree is urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to block a plan by Gov. Paul LePage to save money by dropping an estimated 27,000 low-income Mainers from the state's Medicaid rolls.
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree and Gov. Paul LePage
But the Republican governor bristled at the request Tuesday, accusing Pingree, a Democrat, of "putting her ideological views ahead of the Maine people." And other members of Maine's congressional delegation suggested that they should be working with -- not against -- the state to address the costly Medicaid issue.
"It is highly unusual for a member of the Maine delegation, regardless of political affiliation, to urge a federal agency to act completely contrary to a request from a Maine governor that has the support of the State Legislature," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.
The Medicaid issue is yet the latest political and potentially legal skirmish over Maine's implementation of the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama's health reform law.
In a letter Monday to DHHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Pingree asks the agency to reaffirm rules in the health care law that prohibit states from making deep cuts in their Medicaid programs without first receiving a waiver.
The waiver issue has been simmering in Maine for months, since LePage and GOP lawmakers changed the eligibility requirements for MaineCare -- the state's Medicaid program -- as a way to balance the budget, upsetting many Democratic lawmakers.
Despite strong Democratic opposition, Republicans voted to eliminate Medicaid coverage for seniors and people with disabilities in the Medicare Savings Program, 19- and 20-year olds, and parents with incomes between 100 percent and 133 percent of the federal poverty level.
Such cuts previously required a so-called "maintenance of effort" waiver from the federal government -- something no state has obtained. And federal officials made clear last winter that Maine's request would face long odds because the program was being scaled back for budgetary reasons.
Now, the LePage administration has indicated that it believes the recent Supreme Court ruling nullifies the waiver requirement. DHHS has yet to advise states on whether the waivers are still needed.
Pingree contends, however, that the court ruling never touched upon the waivers. She urged Sebelius to say so.
"As you continue to examine the potential implications of the Supreme Court's decision, and develop guidance for states on the current and future implementation of the ACA, I strongly hope that you will reaffirm your commitment to the MOE requirement," Pingree wrote. "It is clear to me that the governor's proposed elimination of Medicaid coverage would not only adversely affect the health and well-being of Maine residents and upset Maine's local economies, it would also be in direct violation of the MOE requirement, even in the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling."
Pingree is married to financier S. Donald Sussman, a contributor to Democratic and charitable causes and the majority share owner of MaineToday Media, which owns The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville and other media outlets in Maine.
Responses to Pingree's request ran the gamut.
In a written statement, LePage accused Pingree of supporting Obama's health care law at the expense of Mainers.
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