Proposed Cuts To MaineCare Still Up In The Air – Lawmakers Get Dreary Fiscal News 

The LePage Administration’s plans to make $20 million in cuts to the state’s Medicaid program remain in a holding pattern as they continue waiting for United States Health and Human Services Director Kathleen Sebelius to rule on whether those cuts are legal. The changes approved by the Maine Legislature would eliminate coverage for 19 and 20 year-olds, tighten income eligibility requirements for low-income parents, and scale back Medicaid access for elderly residents who also qualify for Medicare. “Through this whole process, we’ve made a very strong substantive argument that this maintenance of effort as it applies to these three programs in Maine is unconstitutional,” Maine Attorney General William Schneider told members of the Appropriations Committee.At the time state lawmakers approved those changes, they were still considered illegal under the Affordable Care Act. But that changed after the Supreme Court ruled in June that to deny the states the right to make those changes was unconstitutional. “It’s a question of upholding the law for the Attorney General,” Schneider said. “And the world, with respect to this particular question, changed when the Supreme Court issued the NFIB v Sebellius opinion.”During the discussion, Democrat Peggy Rotundo of Lewiston questioned Schneider’s motivation in filing the request in the first place. At one point, Rotundo asked the attorney general why he’s working so hard and spending tax dollars to eliminate health insurance for some Mainers. “When that opinion came out the law changed and it made the status quo unconstitutional,” Schneider shot back. “We’re merely trying to uphold the law and uphold the constitution.”Augusta Republican Roger Katz defended the legislature’s decision to make the cuts to the state’s Medicaid program, also known as MaineCare, while expressing his desire not to conjure up the same policy debate the two sides had during the last session. “It was more important for us to provide benefits to the developmentally disabled than perfectly healthy 19-20 year olds.” By law the federal government has 90 days to answer Maine’s request. But each time the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services asks a question about the request, the clock starts again. Schneider told lawmakers Friday he’s not holding his breath waiting for an answer. “So they’re going to take all the time they have. It just happens to be before the election. I would not be surprised if they ask us a question on the 90th day and begin another 90 day period.”The uncertainty of who will be in the White House come November also muddies the waters. A Mitt Romney victory would mean a new administration and that could start the process all over again or a possible outright repeal of the Affordable Care Act.Maine finance officials also addressed members of the Appropriations Committee, giving some dreary fiscal news to lawmakers, but also managed to point to some positive trends that could brighten the picture.Finance Commissioner Sawin Millett on Friday told the Appropriations Committee that state general fund revenues were $26.9 million under budget, or 4.4 percent, as the first quarter ended in September. Sales taxes were nearly $10 million under budget for the quarter.But while sales taxes are 4.7 percent under budget, Millett says they’re “not terribly out of line” and some positive trends are appearing. He says consumer optimism is being reflected in sales tax revenues that are better than they were two and three years ago.Looking ahead, the finance chief says there are concerns about the impact of the cost of fuel.(The Associated Press Contributed To This Report)