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READ: LePage Op-Ed the Portland Press Herald Refused to Run

Governor Paul LePage speaks at a meeting.

Following is an Op-Ed written by former Governor Paul LePage that he says the Portland Press Herald refused to run. Instead, the paper says, they made him submit a much shorter letter that denied him the space to tell the whole story.

The Oct. 3, 2019, editorial, “Our View: Still paying the bills for LePage’s tough talk,” demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the legal issues related to the Riverview decertification and related costs.

Gov. Mills dropped a federal lawsuit and paid tens of millions of Maine taxpayer’s dollars to the federal government. This is what the PPH calls valuable and cooperative talk, paying federal bureaucrats for failing to follow their own rules.

Ironically, Gov. Mills has joined several lawsuits—popular with her base—against the Trump Administration, both as Attorney General and as Governor. But when it came to pushing back on federal bureaucrats in Washington in defense of the Maine taxpayer, she caved without a fight, putting Mainers on the hook for money they were not responsible to pay.

In this case, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) said we could not use the same staff at Riverview Psychiatric Hospital for forensic patients and the general population and sent me a bill for $51 million. The federal government typically covered these costs, but had decided not to pay based on an arbitrary, Obama-era decision by a bureaucrat in Washington.

We then proposed housing the forensic patients in a new unit with a private entrance in Warren. The Legislature refused to appropriate the necessary funding to treat forensic patients. So DHHS had no choice but to continue treating forensic patients while drawing federal funds.

The PPH editorial makes the claim that I did not work with the Legislature to “bring the hospital up to standards.” In reality, DHHS worked in good faith to correct the deficiencies identified in the surveys and made extensive efforts to communicate with CMS to understand its concerns and to develop effective, responsive corrective actions to bring Riverview into compliance. We were successful in doing so.

But while we worked to solve Riverview’s problems, the CMS bill grew. My administration asked CMS to reconsider their decision because it was unfair to Maine and inconsistent with federal law. CMS refused. Ultimately, CMS made decisions that were both factually and legally wrong.

CMS subjected Maine to conflicting guidance, procedural irregularities and arbitrary decision-making that undermined the federal-state partnership around Medicaid services. CMS treated other states’ psychiatric facilities exactly the opposite of how they addressed Riverview. CMS failed to follow their own laws, and they did so inconsistently.

Gov. Mills knows this; as Attorney General, she vigorously challenged the initial termination and approved the retention of outside counsel to appeal to within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

I believed it was in Maine’s best interest to appeal CMS’s decision for two main reasons: First, Maine taxpayers should not have to pay for the incompetence of federal agencies. Second, lawsuits have a benefit of clarifying the law for all parties.

The first appeal, the federal HHS’s administrative review, found in favor of their federal colleagues. We never realistically expected to win this internal appeal; it was a necessary procedural step for us to get to federal court—a neutral third party.

This case dragged from the Obama Administration on into the Trump Administration. I support President Trump, but I was willing to fight his administration on behalf of the people of Maine. Gov. Mills did not stand up to the Trump Administration.

By dropping this lawsuit and paying the federal government, tens of millions of dollars in the state’s rainy day fund was wasted. Even if Gov. Mills and CMS had been able to negotiate a settlement, paying pennies on the dollar would have been a better deal for Mainers.

I played the hand the Legislature dealt me, and we would have prevailed if we had a strong negotiator in office, instead of someone just willing to settle. Prosecution isn’t the same as negotiation. Janet Mills may have been a prosecutor, but when it comes to negotiating, we can add her capitulation on Riverview to the bad deal she got on the CMP corridor.

Gov. Mills dropped the case and gave up the fight, preferring to pay off the feds rather than stand on the law and stand up for Mainers.

You can view the original Op-Ed, published by LePage on Facebook, by clicking here.

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