AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage made a surprise visit to the Appropriations Committee room this afternoon, spending about 20 minutes listening to deliberations over his proposal to fix a $220 million hole at the state Department of Health and Human Services.

LePage did not speak to the committee, but told reporters during a break that he’s “absolutely confident” that the federal government will give the state a waiver from some Medicaid requirements that are part of his proposed budget. LePage said he’s spoken with federal Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about Maine’s need for waivers that would allow the state to reduce coverage for certain categories of MaineCare recipients.

“I just believe it’s not in her interest or in the interest of the administration to see any state go bankrupt or broke,” he said.

As part of his budget, LePage is proposing to end health insurance coverage for 19- and 20-year-olds, change income eligibility guidelines for parents, and roll back eligibility levels for those who get help with prescription medications through the Medicare Savings Plan. All of those changes require federal approval.

LePage has asked the Legislature to approve the cuts, and will then ask the federal government for the waivers. Lawmakers asked several questions about how likely Maine is to get the waivers and what happens if they are not granted.

During the break, LePage said he empathizes with Maine DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew. He said the questions showed him that committee members are making decisions based on “economic emotions.”

“She sits at that table,” he said. “She’s asked a gazillion questions, none of which will lead to a solution. I was choking. I can’t believe I was hearing that.”
 

10:36 a.m.

AUGUSTA — Two legislative committees will begin work today on Gov. Paul LePage’s supplemental budget that includes $220 million in proposed cuts to Department of Health and Human Services programs.

Earlier today, the Maine People’s Alliance was scheduled to deliver more than 1,700 postcards from people opposed to the cuts. LePage is proposing to end Medicaid coverage for 65,000 people to bring the budget back into balance.

Members of the Appropriations and Health and Human Services committees are expected to meet for most of the day to discuss the budget.

On Monday, House Democrats released a lengthy list of questions prepared by Democrats and Republicans. Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew and her staff are expected to be on hand to provide additional information.