LePage again rips ‘socialists’ in veto of bill sought by families of disabled Mainers

Gov. Paul LePage has vetoed an effort by the Legislature to intervene in a move by the Department of Health and Human Services to change eligibility criteria for Medicaid-funded services for adults with intellectual disabilities and autism.

The veto was sustained late Wednesday evening with an 83-66 vote in the House, which is short of the necessary two-thirds majority. That means the bill is dead.

LD 1682 resulted from families of disabled Mainers and advocates using a petition process to force legislative oversight of rules that, among other things, would employ a standardized test to determine what level of Medicaid services people qualify for. Dozens of people turned out to a DHHS public hearing in February to oppose the rules, which they said would cut people off from services they are currently receiving.

Opponents have also said that the test in question, known as the Supports Intensity Scale, is too blunt a tool for such a high-stakes decision, though DHHS argued that the test would be part of a broader assessment. The department has since scrapped its proposal to use the SIS test.

In his veto letter, LePage said the bill is meant “to provide the majority in the Legislature the opportunity to nullify rulemaking they do not like.” He argued that part of the reason for a more stable budget environment in DHHS in recent years is that the executive branch has had the freedom to make decisions like implementing the SIS test.

“This bill would erode that flexibility and infringe on the authority of the chief executive in the interest of election-year pandering,” wrote LePage.

LD 1682 passed through the House with an 83-64 vote in late March — with all of the Democrats and five Republicans supporting the measure. It passed unanimously in the Senate.

“For most of Maine’s recent history, there was little disagreement between the executive branch and the majority in the Legislature because they were both controlled by like-minded socialists,” wrote LePage. “Many in the Legislature have been frustrated by the lack of one-party rule in recent years and have therefore introduced misguided bills like this to infringe on the powers and micromanage the affairs of the executive branch.”

Democrats derided Republicans in the House, as well as independent Gary Sukeforth of Appleton, for voting to sustain LePage’s veto.

“These Mainers told us loud and clear that their ability to stay in their homes and out of institutions was in jeopardy. They asked us for one simple thing: legislative review of changes that could devastate their lives” said Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, House chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee, in a prepared statement. “Republicans turned their backs on them today by putting partisan loyalty over the safety and well-being of some of our most vulnerable citizens.”

 

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.