Playing politics with Maine nursing homes

10 years ago

    In Maine, we have an increasingly aging population and legislators on both sides of the aisle can agree that we have a responsibility to ensure that Maine’s elderly population gets the care they need and deserve.
Newspapers and politicians alike have highlighted the growing nursing home crisis in Maine. For years now, in difficult budgetary circumstances, the MaineCare residents at these facilities have not received a rate increase to cover increased costs. Like everything else, the cost of providing their care hasn’t stayed flat – it’s grown to a point where the total underfunding has been more than $100 million.
This is especially a problem in rural towns. Here in northern Aroostook County alone, there are three nursing homes that have more than 80 percent of their residents funded by MaineCare.
In the Legislature, we couldn’t ignore the growing crisis and threat to our nursing homes.
This session, legislators responded to this crisis by providing nursing homes with $38 million in combined state and federal funds.
Lawmakers passed a Democratic bill which put $4 million into nursing homes, drawing down a federal match of $8 million, which became available on July 1. The bill became law but the Governor refused to sign it.
The responsible bipartisan state budget put $10 million towards nursing homes for the next two fiscal years, drawing a federal match of $16 million. Again, the Governor voted against our elderly by vetoing the budget.
Fortunately, the Legislature voted to override the veto.
Governor LePage has consistently refused to work with the Legislature to support our seniors.
On Veto Day, he proposed a last minute bill to take funding from tobacco settlement funds meant for smoking cessation to pay for greater funds to nursing homes. When lawmakers on both sides of the aisle tried to change the bill, the Governor said he would veto it, refusing to cooperate. As a result, the Republicans and Democrats on the committee, after hearing from all Republican and Democratic legislative leadership, unanimously voted to not move the bill forward. This was after the entire legislature had waited hours as the committee negotiated a bipartisan agreement on this bill.
Now, Governor LePage claims to have saved the nursing homes by finding $4.6 million in Medicaid surplus. After weeks of blaming the Legislature for the nursing home crisis, he claims to have provided funding in spite of the Legislature, when this is clearly far from reality.
The only reason he could repurpose this surplus funding is because of a bill sponsored by Democratic Senator Margaret Craven, which allows any surplus funding to go towards nursing homes. Governor LePage vetoed this bill but now is taking all the credit.
Instead of working with lawmakers and releasing the funding as soon as it was available, Governor LePage pulled yet another political stunt. Our elderly citizens should not be used as political pawns for the Governor’s or anybody’s gain.
The Governor could have released the funding several weeks ago and in the meantime some rural nursing homes have closed.
It is our responsibility as a state to give our elderly citizens the respect they deserve and to adequately provide for their nursing home care.
It is our responsibility as a state to make sure that it is possible for Maine families to keep their loved ones near to their home communities.
It is our responsibility as a state to protect the important institutions in our most economically challenged areas.
It is irresponsible for Governor LePage to play politics with the lives of Maine’s most vulnerable population.
We need to make good on our commitments to Maine seniors.
Sen. Troy Jackson (D-Allagash is majority leader of the Maine Senate. He can be reached at either 398-4081 (home) or 436-0763 (cell), or via email at