U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, is urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to make sure Maine cannot move forward with Medicaid cuts that will strip an estimated 27,000 low-income Mainers of publicly-subsidized health care.
Pingree’s letter to DHHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius asks the federal government to reaffirm rules in the federal health care law that prohibit states from making deep cuts in their respective Medicaid programs. Pingree wrote that Maine and other states should still have to abide by a provision in the Affordable Care Act that require states to maintain current Medicaid eligibility levels through 2014.
But Republican Gov. Paul LePage, whose administration sought and won approval for the Medicaid eligibility changes from the GOP-controlled Legislature, fired back on Tuesday afternoon, accusing Pingree of supporting President Obama’s health care law at the expense of Mainers.
“Unlike Congress, Maine must balance its budget and all the Congresswoman has done is made it harder for our state to be fiscally responsible,” LePage said in a statement. “She’s part of big bloated government that hiked the debt ceiling to $16.4 trillion and is now saying that Maine should be forced to increase the burden on the taxpayers she claims to represent.”
The Legislature this year passed several cuts in the state’s Medicaid program that would eliminate coverage for seniors and people with disabilities in the Medicare Savings Program, 19- and 20-year olds and parents with incomes between 100% and 133% 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. However, the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the required Medicaid expansion portion of the ACA has made it unclear if those waivers are still necessary.
To this point DHHS and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid has not advised states on whether the waivers are still needed.
Pingree’s letter urged Sebelius to say that they are.
“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. It is clear to me that the Governor’s proposed elimination of Medicaid coverage would not only adversely affect the health and wellbeing 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 wrote.
The LePage administration has maintained that the recent court decision undoes the MOE requirement, a view administration officials maintain was recently reaffirmed by Attorney General William Schneider.
Schneider, in a written statement, said the state will first have to amend its Medicaid State Plan before the reductions adopted in the budget can be enacted. But seeking an amendment is not the same thing as seeking a waiver, according to the LePage administration.
“If the federal agency does not approve the application, the state may then seek further redress in the courts,” Schneider said.
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.
This story will be updated.