(NEWS CENTER) -- Governor Paul LePage and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree are in a war of words over whether Maine needs a federal waiver to cut Medicaid.
The policy disagreement involves the Medicaid cuts the legislature approved this year that affect up to 27,000 people.
But the politics of this issue has led to a public spat between the Democratic 1st district representative and the Republican Governor.
It started with the Supreme Court's ruling on the federal health care law. The Court ruled that states cannot be forced to expand Medicaid in 2014.
Governor LePage and Attorney General William Schneider took that to mean that Maine also would no longer have to apply for a waiver to drop people from Medicaid, something the legislature voted to do this spring.
Congresswoman Chellie Pingree disagrees with the Governor, and she sent Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius a letter asking her to make it clear to the states they still need to apply for those waivers if they want to make Medicaid cuts.
Governor LePage feels the Congresswoman went way out of bounds. Wednesday, he sent both the Congresswoman and Secretary Sebelius a letter. The governor's letter to Congresswoman Pingree opens with the following:
"I was disappointed to see your recent letter to Secretary Sebelius. It appears that you have become part of the jet-setting Washington culture that keeps people dependent on government handouts."
The Governor goes on to say that the Congresswoman's letter was "careless in its facts." Pingree says 27,000 people will lose their coverage as a result of these cuts and that the state needs a waiver from the federal government before those cuts can go through. The LePage administration contends that even if the Supreme Court's ruling does not affect cuts before 2014, Maine only would have to ask for a waiver for 21,000 of those people: those who are 19-20 years old and those whose income is between 100-133% of the federal poverty level. Pingree believes there are seniors and people with disabilities in the Medicare Savings Program who also would be covered by a waiver, though the LePage administration argues that even if you include those people, you do not reach 27,000 people. LePage also says Pingree's letter is inaccurate because it didn't mention that the legislature adopted these cuts. And he took her to task for sending a letter that essentially asks the federal government to go against the wishes of the Maine legislature.
"While you might not like the welfare reforms made by the Maine Legislature, it is astounding that you would actively advocate for the Federal Government to overrule Maine's decisions. It has been said since this country's earliest days that "the government closest to the people is the one that governs best. Your title says that you are a Representative from Maine, but apparently you prefer to represent that power of bureaucrats in Washington, D.C."
Congresswoman Pingree said her intent is only to protect people who could lose their health care. "We're all in this together," Pingree said. "I'm not trying to pick a fight with the governor or the legislature. I'm only trying to clarify how the new law works, how it applies to Maine, and how people are making sure that we're continuing to be covered and that people, in fact, have the security that they need."
She also defended herself against the suggestion that she shouldn't be actively telling a federal agency to reject the legislature's decision. Pingree said, "The Republican majority passed it with just a majority budget, not two-thirds as conventional budgeting usually goes. That's just the Republican side of the legislature. I represent an entire congressional district of Maine. The federal government is a very integral part of the Medicaid program."
Meanwhile, Secretary Sebelius did not inject herself directly into this dispute, but she did write a letter to all governors last night that appeared to take Pingree's side in the policy debate.
She reminded governors that because of the Supreme Court's ruling, they can opt out of the expansion of Medicaid, but she then added: "The Court's decision did not affect other provisions of the law."
Governor LePage also sent a letter to Secretary Sebelius to let her know that the state would be sending a routine amendment to its Medicaid program, reflecting the cuts, and asking that she not be swayed by the Congresswoman's letter. He said that should the federal government rule that Maine needed to get a waiver, he would sue. LePage said, "No question. No question. This is long from being over."
A spokesperson for the governor adds that if this comes to a lawsuit, the state would not go ahead and make any Medicaid cuts until this issue was resolved by the courts.
Senate Majority Leader Jon Courtney, who is running against Rep. Pingree in her re-election effort, sent a statement which reads, in part:
"Representative Pingree has taken an unprecedented step of subverting the will of the people of Maine as it relates to getting our unsustainable welfare spending back to the national average."
"Unfortunately her approach is consistent with her actions since she was elected. Rather than work together with elected officials to help lower the cost of health care, she has once again chosen to unilaterally act and act without consulting leaders or caring about the impact her actions would have on State leaders trying to balance the state budget. In Washington, they do not have to worry about balancing a budget they simply can print more money. In Maine, we have been elected to make the tough decisions and we have to balance our budget."