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Gov. Mills’ staff wrote nursing home language she’s citing as reason to stop funding bill

Left: Maine DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew. Right: Governor Janet Mills. Lawmakers say Maine DHHS officials working for Mills actually wrote the language that Mills is citing as her reason to reject a nursing home funding bill.

AUGUSTA – Maine’s Republican lawmakers are more interested in finding a solution for Maine’s underfunded nursing homes than engaging in a political food fight with Governor Janet Mills. They are crystal clear on one thing, however – Janet Mills’ staff wrote the language she is saying is problematic and prevented her from allowing the bill to become law.

In a joint statement released yesterday, Maine House and Senate Republicans showed the language Governor Janet Mills cited as potentially causing problems with Maine’s federal funding and said that language was added by her staff from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services explicitly to avoid the problem she says.

Rather than blast away at Mills, Republicans said they are willing to believe it was an honest mistake and asked what she is going to do to fix it.

In her public statement on holding up the nursing home funding bill, Governor Mills’ office stated:

“Governor Mills held this bill because its proposed rate increase would have exceeded the threshold to qualify for matching federal funds. Had she signed this bill into law, it would have caused nursing home costs billed to MaineCare to exceed that federally required limit, which in turn would have stopped federal match funding. The state would then have to make up for that loss, though the Legislature never allocated any money to compensate for it. ”

But Republicans said the following language, taken directly from the fiscal note for the amendment to L.D. 1758, was written by Mills’ staff at Maine DHHS to guard against the problem she is citing.

“However, based on the language in statute (Title 22 §1708 sub-§3, ¶C), the DHHS must establish reimbursement rates that “are consistent with federal requirements relative to limits on reimbursement under the federal Social Security Act, Title XIX.” Thus, the estimate of costs above includes all increases associated with the bill, with a federal match. If this does create a UPL issue, the DHHS will limit the payments to N(ursing) F(acilities) to remain below the federally required limits.

Pointing to closure of seven nursing homes over the past two years and additional pressures faced by nursing homes, House Republican Leader Kathleen Dillingham said, “We believe failing to approve emergency funds to help keep nursing and residential care facilities open is an honest mistake by the Governor,” said House Republican Leader Kathleen Dillingham.

Rep. Dillingham continued, “This bill was supported unanimously by Republicans and Democrats, this is not a partisan issue. Now, going forward, we want to know how the Governor’s Office intends to fix this mistake?”

Republicans say they are concerned that additional facilities will close over the next six months as the bill hangs in limbo. They negotiated and secured the funding on the final day of the legislative session, and that the bill, passed with unanimous bipartisan support, should have been allowed to become law.

Policy experts and representatives of Maine nursing homes say they do not see the problem Mills is citing and believe the Governor’s position is based on a misinterpretation.

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