Sen. Marianne Moore: Gov. Janet Mills must act on senior care crisis immediately

Senator Marianne Moore represents Maine Senate District 6, which is all of Washington County plus Gouldsboro, Sullivan, Winter Harbor and part of the East Hancock Unorganized Territories.

Following is the Weekly Republican Radio Address from Senator Marianne Moore.

Hello, I am Senator Marianne Moore of District 6 and I come to you today with a heavy heart.

You may recognize my voice, because two months ago, I sat in front of this same microphone pleading with Governor Mills and my colleagues in the state legislature to make use, as quickly as possible, of funds available in two different sources to save our senior care agencies. I pointed to either the surplus of revenue collected by the state but not yet allocated, or the available unspent funds sitting at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Sadly, neither the governor nor Democrats who control both houses of the legislature heeded that call and a month later, the largest home health service in our state, Home Care for Maine, announced it would close, leaving its approximately 600 patients without needed care.

The reason for this funding and health care crisis is quite straightforward. In news reports, the attorney for Home Care specifically blamed the closure on the “lack of an increase in the MaineCare reimbursement rate to compensate for the hike in the state minimum wage, along with other government mandates.”

Over the last three years, state government has mandated that these health care providers give their workers a sixty percent increase in pay, but provided no additional funding to match this jump in labor costs. One does not have to be an accountant to know that this is an untenable financial situation.

Since before the passage of the most recent state budget, my Republican colleagues and I have been pleading for more attention and adequate funding for these agencies that provide critical care. Sadly, the funding was not included in the two-year state budget passed last June.

Last November, Commissioner Lambrew informed House and Senate Republican leaders on the Appropriations Committee that the Department had identified a $31.5 million pool of unspent Medicaid funding, likely due to the far lower than expected enrollment in Medicaid expansion. The next day, my colleague Senator James Hamper, Republican lead on the committee, asked the commissioner if at least some of that money could be used to fund care for seniors, including nursing homes.

The commissioner replied that she would wait until the end of the fiscal year (July 2020) before making any decisions on unspent funds, and that it was “a little premature” since she was not able to predict what unexpected expenses might arise.

The administration’s position was clear that, rather than spending these available funds on a real, known, crisis-level need in senior care, they chose to wait until the end of the fiscal year to spend this pool of Medicaid funds on unexpected expenses that may or may not come to pass. The department chose a possible future need over a real immediate need.

That decision to wait likely doomed Home Care for Maine, the state’s largest home care agency, which announced three months later that it would close due to the lack of adequate funding from the state. Their closing left nearly 600 seniors and adults who have physical disabilities without care, and will send a ripple effect down through the system which does not have the capacity to easily absorb that many “new” patients. This is particularly troublesome given the closure of seven nursing homes in the last two years and the likely closure of more facilities in the near future that are facing the same funding realities.

Shortly after this meeting last November, Senate Republicans issued a press release calling for an agreement between the legislature and Governor Mills to fund the shortfall for nursing homes with some of the surplus state revenue that had been collected to that point. Using part of this unallocated pool of $30 million would also have bolstered the senior care community and could have prevented the closure of Home Care for Maine.

That call for cooperation and agreement, went unanswered. Neither the governor, nor legislative leaders, nor the leaders of the Appropriations Committee so much as acknowledged our plea to help these organizations and their patients.

Losing fifty cents per hour of care that they provided, and seeing no realistic prospect on the horizon for relief from their financial crisis, Home Care for Maine announced that it would close in April. This should never have occurred.

With record state revenues and a two-year budget one billion dollars larger than its predecessor, there was ample money available for this crucial government obligation.

With Maine in the most prosperous economy it has ever experienced, the failure of state government to fund these critical programs is nothing short of unconscionable.

The one cause for hope is the fact that the more than $30 million of unspent Medicaid money is still untouched, ready and available for use in preventing the next agency closure and the casting out of more seniors and disabled adults. All that is needed is a word from Governor Mills.

With our opportunities to resolve this crisis dwindling almost daily, an immediate response is the only justifiable course of action.

Again, I am State Senator Marianne Moore, Thank you for listening.

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