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Policy: Health Care

LePage: Nursing home funding need is 'critical'

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News,Business,Health Care

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Maine Gov. Paul LePage said Wednesday that the state's nursing homes are at risk because of the Legislature's failure to fully fund them and pledged to find the money to ensure that they won't be forced to close their doors.

Lawmakers adjourned earlier this month, but the debate over the nursing home funding goes on, with LePage threatening to haul the Democratic-led Legislature back for a special session to resolve the issue.

After a tour of Portland nursing home Wednesday, LePage said the need for funding is critical and again blamed lawmakers for not passing his last-minute bill to use tobacco settlements funds to increase Medicaid reimbursements for the state's nursing homes by $5 million. It was rejected in the last hours of the session after LePage said he'd veto it if it was amended.

"The money is there. ... We just don't want to give them an increase and that's inappropriate," he told The Associated Press at Saint Joseph's Rehabilitation and Residence.

LePage, a Republican, said that nursing homes won't receive a real funding boost until 2015, but Democrats say nursing homes could get $4 million raise this July under a bill that became law last month without LePage's signature. That will also draw down millions in federal dollars.

Democrats criticized LePage for being unaware that the facilities will receive an increase this July. They blamed him for refusing to participate in writing the supplemental budget and ultimately vetoing it. That measure includes another $5 million for nursing home reimbursements in the budget year that ends June 30, 2016 and $5 million the following year.

Lawmakers overturned that veto with two-thirds support this month.

"He's just trying to get political cover for vetoing funding for the nursing facilities," said Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick.

LePage's office said the governor is concerned that the $4 million in funding for this July may not be realized because it's being paid for by recouping past overpayments.

Richard Erb, president of the Maine Health Care Association, said that while welcomed, the boost this year may not be enough for homes that been underfunded for decades. The amount the facilities will get falls far short of the roughly $12 million that was recommended, he said.

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