Maine delegation to VA: Extend rural care program

Good morning from Augusta, where the Maine Legislature is racing to finish work, with full calendars in the House of Representatives and Senate on Thursday. But we’ll start with far-reaching veterans issues.

On Wednesday, U.S. Reps. Bruce Poliquin and Chellie Pingree introduced a bill to extend a program allowing rural veterans to get health care close to home that has been called “a model for the nation.” U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King have introduced a companion bill in that chamber.

The Access Received Closer to Home (ARCH) program was started as a pilot project in 2011 with Cary Medical Center in Caribou selected as one of the five sites. But it’s set to expire in August, and the Obama administration is considering whether or not to roll it into other programs, including the newer Veteran’s Choice Program.

That program has been troubled, especially in Maine: Less than half of Maine veterans asking for care under that program got appointments between July 2015 and January, the VA Maine Healthcare System told congressional offices earlier this year, drawing harsh responses from the delegation.

That heightened calls to keep the ARCH program in place: Collins, a Republican, telling U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald earlier this month that she’s worried not keeping it could “cause disruption to a program that has been cost-effective and has worked very well.”

In a statement, Poliquin, a 2nd District Republican, called the ARCH program “an extraordinary success,” while Pingree, a 1st District Democrat, called it “an example of the kind of responsive, flexible care we need to provide our veterans, especially in rural states like Maine.” — Michael Shepherd

Legislature likely to reject casino bid again in 2016

The Maine Legislature is poised for inaction on casinos again in 2016 after the House rejected a bill in an initial Thursday vote that would have allowed a casino in York or Cumberland counties under certain circumstances.

It faces action in the Senate, but the House result all but ensures that the bill will die this year. That’s a bit of a gamble, as backers of a citizen’s initiative to build a York County casino are appealing the Maine secretary of state’s decision to invalidate their signatures and bar them from the 2016 ballot.

That referendum effort — funded by the sister of Las Vegas developer Shawn Scott — was highly controversial. Some signature gatherers were paid more than $10 per signature, were accused of misleading tactics and complained of nonpayment and misdeeds by organizers.

The bill rejected by the Legislature would have established a competitive bid process and an initial investment of $250 million. Scott would be the only people who could win the license under the referendum proposal, which doesn’t outline any minimum initial investment. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • Thursday is Conservation Day at the State House, and environmental interests will hold an 11 a.m. press conference advocating for bills advocating community solar power and a bond to replace culverts and against a Gov. Paul LePage bill aimed at undoing transfers of land designated by the president as a national monument.
  • Maine got a perfect score from the National Institute on Money in State Politics for disclosure of state campaign contributions, with the group saying the state “does the best job of providing the public with timely access to complete digitized data” and finer contribution details. It the only state to get a perfect score of 100. The national average? 77.

Reading list

Help build Maine GOP’s ‘brick house’

Looking to “cement your legacy” at the Maine Republican Party?

You’re in luck: The party is asking people to donate $150 for a brick commemorating a friend, family member or public official outside the party headquarters in Augusta.

One could say you’d be helping the party build a “brick house.” I have the perfect soundtrack for this. — Michael Shepherd (h/t Robert Long)

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.