Dems say letter from top Obama official means elderly, people with disabilities still have lifeline
AUGUSTA – Democratic state lawmakers today said they were relieved to hear that the Obama administration will not allow GOP budget cuts that take health care away from the elderly and people with disabilities without first seeking a federal waiver. Earlier this year, the Obama administration told the governor it was unlikely such a waiver would be granted.
“It is such a relief for Maine families, the elderly and people with disabilities, who were going to lose vital health care if the GOP budget cuts were to move forward,” said Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D- Lewiston, who serves on the State Appropriations Committee. “I have been alarmed at how eager the governor and Republicans have been to take away health care from Maine families in order to fund tax cuts for the very wealthy. It’s not right to provide a windfall to the wealthiest people on the backs of our most vulnerable.”
The LePage administration and the Attorney General have argued the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Medicaid expansion also gives states the flexibility to ignore certain “maintenance of effort” provisions in the law. As a result the Republicans would be able to move forward with budget cuts to health care for 27,000 Maine people, including the elderly and people with disabilities.
“It provides comfort to learn that there will be some stop gap for these cruel and shortsighted cuts,” said Senator Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, who serves on the State’s Health and Human Services Committee. “These are people who are choosing between buying groceries or filling a prescription.”
A letter sent today from Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told governors around the country that the recent Supreme Court decision upholding the health care reform law only affects future expansions of Medicaid programs not existing programs. Sebelius wrote that while the Supreme Court said if states don’t expand Medicaid after 2014 they can’t be penalized, “the Court’s decision did not affect other provisions of the law.”
In a report on MPBN last night, an administration official confirmed that this includes the requirement that states maintain current eligibility levels until the year 2014.
“Hopefully, this puts to rest the legal gymnastics,” said Rep. Sharon Treat, D-Hallowell, who serves on the State’s Insurance and Financial Services Committee. “The bottom line is we need to move forward. Let’s focus on how we can best help the people in our state get access to affordable health care.”