DHHS Commissioner updates Appropriations Committee on work being done

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AUGUSTA, Maine (WABI) - The Legislature's Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee (AFA) met with Maine's Health and Human Services Commissioner Thursday.

Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew provided an update on the work the department is doing, and where their budget is going.

"These interim meetings are really a good opportunity for the committee to hear from the executive branch about various spending initiatives," said Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, the House Chair of AFA. "It helps us to do our role as oversight committees watching over state spending. It also helps us get ready for the upcoming session."

Lambrew gave the committee an overview on the programs they're working on.

One of the major points was Medicaid expansion.

About 41,000 people have enrolled, which is lower than the original projections suggested at this point.

Lambrew remains optimistic, saying that more people are continuing to enroll, and they're launching an ad campaign, CoverME, to get the message out there.

"We expect those numbers to climb," said Lambrew. "We've already seen a significant increase in applications this year for the first part of November compared to last year, so we're optimistic that in a couple months we'll be well on our way to all eligible people signing up for MaineCare."

Another key topic was nursing homes.

"In my district alone, I've had two facilities change from nursing care to assisted living because of the financial aspect of not enough reimbursement from the state," said Sen. Jim Hamper, R-Oxford.

Hamper tried to increase funding for nursing homes last session, but the bill was ultimately carried over by Governor Mills. He says that helping nursing homes has been one of his main policy goals over his time in the legislature.

The Mills administration says that it is due to a federal threshold that would have caused Maine to lose federal assistance, and they're working on a fix.

"We're hopeful that we can come up with a solution by January that would address some of the concerns of the nursing homes while maintaining fiscal responsibility and living within the federal rules," said Lambrew.