Governor finds savings to aid nursing homes

AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- A surprise announcement from Governor Paul LePage on Thursday will mean more financial help for Maine nursing homes. After a continuing war of words with Democrats over funding for nursing homes, the Governor said he has found more than four million to help prevent more homes from closing.

Two have already announced they're shutting down, because the state doesn't pay enough for Medicaid patients to cover the cost. The last closing announcement came a week ago, from the Pittsfield Rehab and Nursing facility -- a 57 bed home that says it will shut down in September. The home's owner said 90% of their patients are paid for by Medicaid.

In the spring, the Legislature approved about $11 million in new, combined state and federal funding, but that wasn't enough to meet the need. On Thursday, the Governor announced the administration has found money from savings in the Maine Care program that will allow them to provide an approximately $15 million (state and federal) for nursing homes for this year. The combined total of the Legislature's appropriation and the Governor's savings – with the federal Medicaid match – brings the total additional funding to nearly $26 million. Rick Erb of the Maine Health Care Association, which represents most of the state's nursing homes, says the money will make "a huge difference" to the financially stressed homes, and said it should prevent any further closings in the coming year. However, all the added funding is for the current fiscal year only. The next Legislature and Governor will have to tackle funding all over again next winter.

The Governor and Democrats in the Legislature have been in a back and forth battle over the nursing home issue. The Governor submitted a last-day bill to the Legislature in the spring. Democrats wouldn't support it, but came up with an alternative, which the Governor told them he would veto. At that point, the issue died. Since then, the Governor and Democrats have argued over the need for a special session to vote on a nursing home funding plan. The Governor claims Democrats have refused to go into a special session, while Democrats claim the Governor has had no plan on which to vote. That is apparently a moot point now, as Gov. LePage said the plan to take money from Medicaid savings does not need the approval of the Legislature.


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