AUGUSTA – Hearing that Maine’s Medicaid shortfall will be less than initially expected, Appropriations Committee members suggested Monday that Gov. Angus King could shelve or reduce his plans to trim The Fund for a Healthy Maine’s new illness-prevention programs.
Human Services Commissioner Kevin Concannon, who delivered the news that the two-year Medicaid shortfall would be about $11 million less than expected, said he would look into the possibility and get back to the committee with an answer. Originally, he had predicted a shortfall of more than $65 million.
Concannon listened as a slew of health agencies, prevention experts and others told a joint meeting of the Appropriations and Health and Human Services committees that cutting about $30 million of tobacco settlement money from the new prevention programs would be shortsighted.
Sen. Jill Goldthwait, an independent of Bar Harbor who co-chairs the Appropriations Committee, questioned cutting money from The Fund for a Healthy Maine, a prevention effort established with part of the state’s $55 million share of the federal tobacco settlement.
She said the funds already were dedicated to groups that have long operated on a shoestring and are now building prevention programs.
“A lot of organizations have done a lot based on the promise of this money,” she said.
Concannon said the agencies would get the full amount promised next fiscal year, but face cuts of about 26 percent on promised money for the year after.
Andrea Mason, who is spearheading a community illness-prevention program on Mount Desert Island, said getting volunteers and organizations on board with the plan approved by the Bureau of Health was a hard task. Some were skeptical that the state would keep the money for prevention programs. But skeptics were assured the money was promised and ready, she said.
“Now you’ve got to go back and say we’re not sure if we can be there for you,” she said.
Concannon said he knows people don’t like the cuts but there’s no alternative in order to balance the budget.
Appropriations members asked opponents of the cuts for solutions. Most said they were simply in favor of looking elsewhere.
Andrew McLean, speaking for the Maine Medical Association, said the MMA supports doubling the state’s cigarette tax as one way to increase revenues.
“I would love you to raise the tax on cigarettes more. I would love it if cigarettes become so expensive that no 10-year-old had a pack of cigarettes in their backpack,” said Patrice Putman, chairwoman of Southern Kennebec Healthy Communities, one of the organizations building a prevention effort with promised tobacco settlement money.
Many testified that taking money from prevention would only cost more in the future.
JaneAnn McNiesh of the American Lung Association said the only way to reduce growing medical costs is to reduce the number of medical services needed by the public.
“It’s an investment in the future,” McNiesh said. Without it “we’re going to be looking at this forever, these escalating costs.”
“It’s time to put the ‘partnership’ back in the Partnership for a Tobacco-Free Maine,” said Ed Miller, president of the Maine chapter of the American Lung Association.