A week of public hearings on the Health and Human Services(HHS) portions of the Governor’s proposed Biennial budget began this morning. The Appropriations committee was joined by the HHS committee as they will be all week long.
Commissioners Rosen and Mayhew presented testimony in support of the Governor’s proposals. Members of the public and heads of various non-DHHS agencies also presented their testimony.
The afternoon session was devoted to public health initiatives with particular opposition for the Governor’s plan to slash Fund for a Healthy Maine (FHM) tobacco settlement dollars for preventions and public health uses. Commissioner Mayhew defended the Governor’s intention to use FHM dollars to supplant GF dollars – in opposition to the language and intent of the law establishing the Fund.
Public testimony was wildly opposed to the Governor’s plan.
Leadership released the following statement on today’s hearings.
For Immediate Release
March 2, 2015
Contact: Ann Kim [Gattine] 233-1838; Ericka Dodge [Valentino] 232-5892
Public opposes raid on the Fund for a Healthy Maine
Governor’s budget would derail progress of smoking prevention and other public health efforts
AUGUSTA – A plan to raid $20 million from the Fund for a Healthy Maine met with overwhelming opposition from the public, medical experts and health care professionals during a public hearing before the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee and the Health and Human Services Committee on Monday.
Opponents of the plan in Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed state budget described how it would derail anti-smoking and other key public health efforts that rely on the fund and have proven to be successful. It was created by the Legislature in 1999 to disburse annual tobacco settlement payments that Maine receives because of the disease and deaths suffered by Mainers as a result of tobacco use.
“Without the Fund for a Healthy Maine, we would never have been able to reverse Maine’s youth smoking rates from one of the highest in the nation to one of the lowest. We achieved these results through targeted and sustained efforts and by using tobacco settlement funds for their intended purpose,” said Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, House chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. “We can’t allow the governor to raid these funds and dismantle our public health system.”
Because of the decline in smoking over the past 15 years, 36,360 fewer Maine kids will grow up into addicted adult smokers and 24,070 fewer Maine residents will die prematurely from smoking, testified Jamie Comstock of Friends for a Healthy Maine, a statewide coalition of more than 100 organizations.
“The Fund for Healthy Maine has been a beacon of public health success. Now is not the time to be pulling back on anti-smoking or healthy habits efforts,” said Sen. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, a member of the state’s budget writing committee. “It is common sense that we would continue to prioritize investments that invest in making people healthier and stronger.”
Despite public testimony to the contrary, the LePage administration contends it should take money from the Fund for a Healthy Maine and put it toward primary care instead. Members of the public testified Monday that the governor is offering a false choice and that primary care on its own is insufficient to deal with tobacco use and other public health problems addressed by the Fund for a Healthy Maine
Theresa Fowler, director of the Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Healthy Aroostook Coalition, testified about why businesses need a strong community public health system to grow and thrive. The governor’s budget “completely misunderstands” that disease prevention and primary care are interrelated and do not work as intended when forced to stand on their own, she testified.
“Weakening Maine’s public health system and disregarding proven strategies that prevent tobacco addiction and improve worker health send the wrong message to companies looking to start or expand their businesses here in Maine,” Fowler told the committees.
In addition to anti-tobacco efforts, the fund is meant to support seven other areas of public health, including prenatal and young children’s care, comprehensive school health programs, prescription drugs for the elderly and individuals with disabilities and dental and oral health care to individuals without adequate coverage.
Last year, the Legislature overrode the governor’s veto of LD 386, An Act To Reduce Tobacco-related Illness and Lower Health Care Costs in MaineCare. The measure requires MaineCare to cover the cost of tobacco cessation treatment for MaineCare members and directs the Department of Health and Human Services to pursue opportunities for federal reimbursement of those costs.
1:00 PM- HHS committee, Social Services and Public Assistance & Eligibility
10:00 AM- HHS committee, Hospitals and physicians
1:00 PM- HHS committee, Elder services & dually eligible members
1:00 PM- HHS committee, Substance abuse & mental health
10:00 AM- HHS committee, Developmental disabilities and brain injury
1:00 AM- HHS committee, Children’s services & children’s mental health, Payments to providers, departmental administration
You can always attend hearings and work sessions in Room 228 or listen live here.