WASHINGTON — Gov. Paul LePage said he sees no reason to meet with Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius to discuss his proposed cuts to MaineCare while he attends the National Governors Association meeting here.

LePage will be at the NGA winter meeting through Monday, when governors visit the White House to meet with President Obama.

“I just want to listen to the other governors, see if they are all facing the same issues, and see how other governors are attacking some of the issues,” LePage said about his plans for the meeting.

But LePage said in an interview Saturday that he doesn’t have anything to talk to Sebelius about until the Maine Legislature takes action on his proposal to make much deeper cuts to MaineCare than state lawmakers agreed to in passing an emergency budget last week.

“I don’t have any reason to meet with Secretary Sebelius until the legislature gives me a budget that I know what I can go ask for,” LePage said before the opening session of the NGA meeting. “But I need to have the legislature give me something to go ask for. If they don’t make the cuts what’s the sense in sitting down with her?”

The emergency budget closed a $121 million shortfall for the state Department of Health and Human Services through June 30, in part by cutting MaineCare health coverage for 14,000 parents and phasing out the program for adults without children. But LePage is seeking more cuts to DHHS for the 2013 fiscal year that begins July 1, including $37 million in MaineCare cuts that require federal permission.

A number of Maine Democrats have said they doubt the Obama administration would grant those waivers.

LePage acknowledged that he isn’t optimistic, either, but said the Legislature should still take action on deeper MaineCare cuts first.

“There is no appetite in Washington, D.C., to do anything on waivers for Medicaid,” LePage said. “That’s what I really believe. The state of Maine ought to just do their thing and not worry about the federal government. Just do your job.”

Sebelius said during a U.S. Senate Finance Committee hearing Feb. 15 that she had a conversation with LePage recently about Maine’s effort to reduce its costs for MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program.

Sebelius said at the hearing, in response to a question by Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, that she gave LePage information about the types of changes the state is allowed to make immediately without federal permission, including the tighter eligibility for parents.

Sebelius also said she offered to send a team of federal officials to look at Maine’s other choices. The same offer has been made to other states.

Maine has not yet accepted that offer. LePage on Saturday called Sebelius’ offer a “sound bite,” but said that nonetheless he would “welcome a team to Maine.”


Jonathan Riskind — 791-6280

[email protected]

Twitter: Twitter.com/MaineTodayDC