Thoughts while waiting for Gov. LePage’s DHHS supplemental budget

In recent days, there has been some confusion about the timing of Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed supplemental budget for the Department of Health and Human Services.

Friday, Dec. 2 was supposed to be the day that members of Legislature’s Appropriations Committee would get their hands on the numbers. Typically, there is a two-week period between when the budget is released and public hearings are scheduled. Tentatively, hearings have been set for Dec. 14 and 15.

Initially, the shortfall in the DHHS budget was projected at $71 million, but that number ballooned to $121 million in just two weeks. Appropriations Committee members have expressed anger about the credibility of the numbers provided by DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew.

Instead of addressing the shortfall as part of a larger supplemental budget, the LePage administration has decided to do a separate DHHS supplemental. Democrats are fearful that plugging the entire $121 million with only DHHS dollars could be crippling.

“I don’t think it’s a stretch to say people will die,” said one Democratic insider.

LePage already has threatened to cut education if lawmakers don’t support his cuts to DHHS.

Commissioner Mayhew has indicated recently that the lion’s share of the cuts likely will come through MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program.

One option would be to reduce the threshold for eligibility from 200 percent of the poverty level to 150 percent or perhaps even 133 percent. That likely would save tens of millions and would bring Maine in line with the threshold set by many other states.

Another option for savings could be reducing or eliminating certain MaineCare programs, such as dental. That would save money, too, but it’s not clear how much.

Gov. LePage and other high-ranking State House officials were meeting Friday to discuss options and decide on the specifics. It wasn’t clear whether those specifics would be made public Friday or not.

So, stay tuned!

-ER