Democrats force review of Gov. LePage’s cuts to mental health care

Democrats force review of Gov. LePage’s cuts to mental health care

Five members of the Maine Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, all Democrats, voted yesterday to approve a petition for review of changes to the state’s mental health care rules proposed by Governor Paul LePage.

“The administration once again tried to slash key services to vulnerable Mainers. Once again, Mainers stood up and demanded scrutiny of a misguided plan that will jeopardize their health and well-being,” said Rep. Drew Gattine, the House chair of the committee. “We hear you and agree that changes of this magnitude require a hard look.”

The Department of Health and Human Services recently notified more than 24,000 Mainers with serious mental illness that next month they may lose the services that help them stay in their homes and avoid more costly hospitalization and residential services. When the affected Mainers called DHHS, they got an automated message telling them to contact their mental health providers. Mental health providers, however, had no warning that thousands of clients were receiving these notices from DHHS.

Mainers who will be harmed by the proposal submitted a petition to the legislature to review the proposed changes to Section 17 of the state’s MaineCare rules. Because the petition was successful a public hearing will now be held and a recommendation made by the committee. If a bill to amend the changes is reported out, it will go to the full legislature for consideration.

“This shift by the administration will leave many vulnerable citizens behind. I was struck by the comments of one petitioner with severe anxiety and PTSD who fears he will be hospitalized if he loses his case manager,” said Sen. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, the lead Democrat on the committee. “I feel compelled to stand up to DHHS on behalf of the Mainers whose voices aren’t being heard.”

All the Democrats present when the petition was presented Wednesday evening voted for the review. No Republican members registered votes in favor.

Previously, Health and Human Services commissioner Mary Mayhew had said the changes were the result of a proposal by a consultant hired by the Department of Health and Human Services to examine rate structures, but asked about the Section 17 changes at a town hall event in Mexico on Tuesday, Gov. LePage claimed they were instead being forced to act by the federal government.

“I am told by the Department of Health and Human Services that the services are not going away. The services are being re-configured and the protocols are going to be a little different because we want to make it more efficient, and the federal government is making us do it,” said LePage. “It’s not because it’s our idea, it’s because we haven’t been doing it the way we’re supposed to be doing it.”

This is the second time in two months that Maine citizens have asked the Legislature to intervene because of the harm they would suffer under administration plans to cut support services for vulnerable Mainers.

Photo: Rep. Drew Gattine, Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, via Andi Parkinson.

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