Welcome News Starts the Year

By State Senator Bill Diamond

The legislative session started last week and we were greeted with some good news. In the face of strong bipartisan opposition, the governor dropped his call for the elimination of Medicaid funding for the state’s Private Non-Medical Institutions.

Known as PNMIs, these are group homes for the elderly and disabled. This category also includes some therapy centers for substance-abuse treatment.

These cuts represented about $60 million of the governor’s plan to meet a purported $220 million shortfall over the next two years. While I find many of the cuts he proposed unpalatable, legislators from both parties found these to be particularly troublesome because they would fall so heavily on those that would be least able to deal with them. If they had gone through as the governor had initially requested, these cuts would have left an estimated 6,000 elderly and disabled people homeless and without services. I am gratified that the governor saw the folly in going this route to save money.

Having said that, the cuts to PNMI are emblematic of the problems with his entire proposal. This plan was either not well thought out (at best) or politically driven (at worst). There are several reasons why I say this. First and foremost, no one in the Executive Branch has been able to provide the legislature with the hard numbers backing up the need for these cuts. That this information has not been forthcoming in the time since the cuts were first announced over a month ago is very concerning to me. As a result we cannot determine accurately either how much really needs to be cut, or, of that amount, how much is a result of one-time spending and how much will be an ongoing problem.

The second reason is that all the proposed cuts are all coming from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).  In all my years of state service, I have never seen a plan along these lines. If cuts do really need to happen, the pain should be shared across state government. Finally, the cuts proposed are just that, cuts.  There has been no serious attempt to find real cost savings within the services provided by DHHS. Instead of looking for efficiencies, the governor has just called for eliminating programs and services.

I am gratified that the governor saw reason concerning the cuts to PNMIs, and even more so that legislators from both parties and both chambers have worked together to go through this proposal carefully. Working together, we will seek to determine the need for cuts and, if reductions are necessary, where and how they should be made to do the least harm possible.

As always, I welcome your input on this issue, or other issues in Augusta. You can call my office at the State House at 287-1515 or visit my website, www.mainesenate.org/diamond to send me an e-mail.

State Senator Bill Diamond is a resident of Windham, and serves the District 12 communities of Casco, Frye Island, Raymond, Standish, Windham and Hollis.

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