Gov. Paul LePage claims that an explosion in demand for MaineCare services is the real reason for a deficit in the program, justifying his proposal for deep cuts that affect 65,000 people.

The numbers provided by his administration, however, don’t support his case.

In a letter to lawmakers, the Department of Health and Human Services documented a $120 million hole in the budget that was passed in June. It’s true that increased demand for services accounted for some of the shortfall, $6.5 million or about 3 percent of the total.

Errors account for much more of that deficit, however, errrors such as the state’s failure to account for room and board for patients in assisted living and group homes, ($19.3 million) or for “system defects,” which delayed payment on some of last year’s bills into the current two-year budget cycle, missing out on enhanced federal matching funds ($29.6 million).

None of this means that the bills don’t have to be paid, but it should influence how the Legislature goes about paying them.

If these errors are one-time events — and we hope that they are — it doesn’t make sense to treat them as permanent structural costs that require a systemic fix.

But that is what LePage proposes to do, cutting some services to all MaineCare recipients and eliminating coverage completely for thousands, both young and old.

In his radio address last week, LePage referred to MaineCare as “welfare” and complained that it created a cycle of dependency. It is hard to see how a nursing home patient who will lose podiatry or physical therapy coverage is a “welfare” recipient, or how cutting those services would make that person more independent.

It also doesn’t explain why these people should bear the burden of mistakes that were made in the upper reaches of government. The governor, once again, appears to be pushing ahead informed more by anecdotes about welfare cheats than the real problems his “solution” would cause.

Lawmakers will hear plenty about those problems in the public hearings that started Wednesday and are expected to last throughout the week. The testimony should give them pause to think about whether the governor’s proposal is the best way to solve this problem.

The governor’s letter about the cause of the deficit, however, should give them more than enough information to know that the problem that needs solving is not what the governor says it is.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.