AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage said Monday that he will veto any budget proposal that would not eliminate health insurance fully for childless adults who are now in Maine’s Medicaid program.

As lawmakers continued to meet behind closed doors to address a budget shortfall in the Department of Health and Human Services, LePage criticized both Republicans and Democrats for considering alternatives to his original proposal.

In December, LePage proposed eliminating coverage for 18,600 childless adults who get health insurance from MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program.

Lawmakers have not disclosed the details of their negotiations, but LePage said at a news conference Monday afternoon that their current proposal is to cut the program in half but not eliminate it.

“They are taking a half-measure that doesn’t fix any of the problem,” he said. “Quite frankly, I believe the Appropriations Committee for the state of Maine is abdicating its responsibility to the people of the state of Maine.”

Those comments had committee members shaking their heads but continuing to negotiate. Rather than respond to the governor, they left it to leadership to speak on their behalf.

House Speaker Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, said the committee was close to a compromise and he had expected a committee vote Monday night. However, after the governor’s comments, he wasn’t so sure.

“What happened today, with the governor’s press event, is he may have delayed that resolution,” he said. “I’m guessing now that there may be some heartburn about coming to a resolution today.”

House Minority Leader Emily Cain, D-Orono, said the committee “has been trying to clean up the governor’s mess” and lawmakers have struggled to get solid budget numbers from the LePage administration.

“This is nothing short of meddling by the governor,” she said.

As originally proposed, eliminating health insurance for adults who don’t have children would save $22 million a year, in a broader plan to close a $221 million shortfall in the DHHS over the next 17 months. LePage’s full proposal would cut 65,000 people from MaineCare.

The committee’s proposal to reduce spending on childless adults would save $7 million to $11 million, although there was no agreement on the number late Monday.

LePage said he was assured by Republican leaders on Thursday that by Friday night they would deliver a 13-0 committee vote recommending the elimination of the program.

He expressed frustration Monday that that no longer appeared to be part of the plan. He said he had not been presented with a plan and he did not think the committee’s proposal would get two-thirds support from lawmakers.

For months, LePage has cited the program for childless adults as something that should be cut because Maine is more generous with that program than other states are.

Maine, one of 20 states with such programs, has been granted a waiver from federal requirements that allows the program’s elimination. Other cuts that LePage is seeking need federal waivers but don’t have them.

Maine offers the insurance program to adults whose income is at or below the federal poverty level, which is $10,890 a year for a single person.

LePage’s news conference Monday was a continuation of his efforts to compel lawmakers to swift action. He has attended two committee work sessions, an unusual step for a governor; put out a news release that halted negotiations for more than a hour; and held two news conferences in the last five days.

Nutting said he wishes the governor had waited to see the committee’s entire plan before commenting.

“It’s unfortunate to have that position now, because we haven’t seen the budget,” he said. “There may be things in the final product he likes, things that are a trade-off that he’s willing to accept in lieu of complete elimination of (insurance for childless adults). It’s unfortunate that we didn’t have a chance to let the Appropriations Committee do their work before he made this statement.”

Susan Cover — 620-7015

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