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Bill to fix $32 million budget hole, reduce Medicaid waitlists sent to Maine governor

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AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine lawmakers sent a bill to Gov. Paul LePage on Tuesday that fixes a $32 million gap in the state budget next fiscal year and moves hundreds of developmentally disabled residents off waitlists for Medicaid services like home-based care.

The budget overwhelmingly approved by both chambers, which are controlled by Democrats, includes $5 million for nursing homes and another $5 million to slash the waitlists. It's expected to provide services for more than 400 people on one list but just a couple dozen on another list that has roughly 900 people, according to the Office of Fiscal and Program Review.

While small in funding compared to past budgets, the bill will bring great benefits to people greatly in need, lawmakers said.

"It's good for kids, for families, for seniors and for communities," said Sen. Emily Cain, a Democrat from Orono and a member of the Appropriations Committee, which unanimously endorsed the measure last week.

It passed in the House with a 136-8 vote, followed by a unanimous vote in the Senate on Tuesday.

The measure for the fiscal year that ends June 30, 2015, also closes $17 million shortfall in the state's Medicaid budget. Among other things, it's paid for by extending the cycle of Medicaid payments to health care providers, which is expected to save $20 million.

What action the governor will take on the bill remains unclear. LePage has had a hands-off approach on the supplemental budget process this year, refusing to introduce one after lawmakers overrode his veto of the $6.3 billion spending plan.

He blasted the bill last week, saying that lawmakers are "playing games" by trying to balance the budget on the backs of hospitals. But he let the spending bill for the fiscal year that ends this June go into law without his signature earlier this month.

The Republican governor's administration and GOP lawmakers have said the waitlists show that the Medicaid program is already burdened and prove why Maine shouldn't expand it to more people under the Affordable Care Act.

On Tuesday, Republicans and Democrats applauded the committee's ability to come to an agreement that keeps the budget in balance while ensuring that those residents get proper care.

"We must continue to ensure Maine's nursing homes and people on wait lists get the support they need, and this budget puts a solid down payment on that effort," House Republican Leader Ken Fredette of Newport said in a statement.


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