AUGUSTA, Maine — After weeks of wrangling with Democrats over funding for nursing homes, Gov. Paul LePage announced Thursday that Maine's roughly 100 facilities will get an additional $13.1 million this fiscal year through an arrangement that doesn't require the Legislature's approval.
The Republican governor's administration said it identified $4.6 million in savings within the Department of Health and Human Services, which will draw down $8.5 million in federal dollars to increase Medicaid reimbursements. That's on top of $12.3 million in state and federal dollars the facilities were already set to receive this fiscal year under a bill that went into law without LePage's signature.
Officials representing the long-underfunded facilities said that wasn't enough. Since lawmakers left in May, LePage and GOP lawmakers have urged Democratic leaders to haul lawmakers back to Augusta to pass a $5 million bill to fix the existing shortfall. In the meantime, two nursing homes have announced they will soon shutter their doors.
LePage said Thursday that his administration won't "stand by anymore and listen to slick-talking politicians giving lip service."
"That time is over. We are taking action. And the Legislature isn't part of this solution. They are part of the problem," he said.
Democrats defied LePage's calls to reconvene the Legislature, saying he had the power to call them into a special session. They said his latest announcement is more proof that LePage, who's running for re-election this November, is using nursing homes to try to take political cover for his policies that they say have hurt Maine seniors.
"Why would he sit on $4.6 million in savings, when nursing homes were struggling? And why would he call on lawmakers to return to Augusta when he already had the funding?" Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick said in a statement.
Nursing homes are currently reimbursed by the state for residents in the Medicaid program based on their expenditures in 2005 and have received only one slight cost-of-living boost in the last several years, according to the Maine Health Care Association. The measure the Legislature approved last session requires the state to reallocate funding based on more recent expenditures.
LePage originally wanted to aid the nursing homes by taking $5 million of tobacco settlement funds, which are meant for anti-smoking campaigns. The bipartisan budget-writing committee spiked that measure in the final hours of the session after lawmakers were told LePage would veto it if amended.
LePage and DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew said Thursday that they don't need legislative approval under the new plan because they are reallocating money within the department. The department is using money left over from last fiscal year — which ended in June — that Mayhew said came from initiatives that improved efficiencies in the Medicaid program.
Mayhew said the state must develop a long-term solution to deal with its rapidly aging population. Maine's median age of 43.5 years is the highest in the country. That's more than six years older than the U.S. median age of 37.4 years.
"We have got to continue to work ... to effectively build and plan for a system that will meet the needs of this population," Mayhew said.
In the supplemental budget — which lawmakers approved over LePage's veto — nursing homes will also get $5 million in the budget year that begins next June and $5 million the following year.
Follow Alanna Durkin at http://www.twitter.com/aedurkin