Senate Democrats push proposal for Veterans care
AUGUSTA – The Maine State Senate voted today to pass the state budget in a vote of 27 – 8. Earlier this week, Senate Democrats proposed an option to the budget that would have helped transition Veterans currently on MaineCare with other benefits such as VA benefits. Adding the Democratic option to the budget as an amendment was rejected by Republican leadership, however, Governor LePage along with legislative Republican leadership, have given assurances that the Senate Democratic proposal will be made a priority this session.
“During the past week of negotiations we were not looking to move mountains here. Simply, Democrats wanted to create a softer landing for the people of Maine transitioning off of MaineCare,” said Senate Democratic Leader Barry Hobbins of Saco. “The vote here today reflects the tug-of-war between needing to keep the lights on and the bills paid and take care of our most vulnerable neighbors.”
The Veterans proposal directs Maine’s Health and Human Services to work proactively with any Veteran who is currently on MaineCare and is one of the so-called “non categoricals” or “parents with children” and who may qualify for Veteran’s benefits. The proposal is modeled after an existing eight-year program in Washington State. It is estimated that, at a minimum, 1,000 Veterans who currently receive MaineCare under the so-called “non-categorical” waiver, would lose health insurance under the current budget proposal.
“Taking care of our Veterans can wait no longer. We cannot allow even one Veteran to slip through the cracks,” said Hobbins. “And while we had expected to get this as part of the budget. What matters most is that Veterans are protected.”
The budget rejects the Governor’s proposed cuts to the Drugs for the Elderly program, the Fund for Healthy Maine, private-non medical institutions, and cuts to hospitals for rate reimbursements. It also preserves health care for 18,000 childless adults referred to as non-categoricals, by capping funding for the program at $40 million. It maintains the cap by freezing enrollment and through attrition. The budget also lowers the eligibility threshold for parents of children on MaineCare. Under the new agreement, changes to the parents of children on MaineCare will not occur until October 1, 2012 at which point the eligibility threshold is reduced from 200 to 133 percent of poverty level.
“Making this a better budget does not make it good,” said Assistant Democratic Leader Justin Alfond of Portland. “Democrats feel strongly that this budget does not reflect Maine values.” Alfond added, “It’s time to put this behind us and refocus our efforts on the issues that matter most to Maine people, like how to get people back to work and a few more dollars in their pockets.”
The budget, as passed, also includes $25 million in savings as proposed by the streamlining task force last fall.
In December, LePage proposed taking health care away from 65,000 people to close the projected $220 million in cuts to DHHS. The budget passed tonight will limit those cuts to 14,000 low-income parents who receive health care through MaineCare.
Lawmakers will begin work on the remaining $84 million in proposed cuts to the DHHS budget for 2013 in a separate bill later this month.