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Feds Seek Dismissal of Maine's Appeal of Riverview Funding Cut
12/10/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

Attorneys for the federal government are seeking to have the state of Maine's challenge involving the Riverview psychiatric hospital dismissed. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, which terminated funding for the hospital, have asked an administrative law judge to reject the state's appeal of that decision. As A.J. Higgins reports, state lawmakers fear a ruling against the state could mean the loss of more than just the $20 million in federal funding.

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Only two months ago, Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew was unequivocal when predicting how Maine's administrative appeal would turn out. She said the decision by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services - also known as CMS - to terminate federal funding at the Riverview Psychiatric Center due to non-compliance and safety issues was without merit.

"I'm confident that the state will prevail because this federal decision is clearly not supported by written federal policy," Mayhew said. "It is a gross misinterpretation of federal policy."

During a meeting of the Legislature's Health and Human Services, the LePage administration declined to send a representative to talk with lawmakers about the latest filing.

But former Maine Supreme Court Chief Justice Dan Wathan, the court master for a consent decree covering mental health services at Riverview, did appear and offered his assessment, based on his own review.

"If I were a betting man, I wouldn't bet that I knew how this was going to come out," Wathan said. "It isn't a slam dunk for the state by any means, and there is some substance to the motion to dismiss and to the motion for summary judgment."

Several lawmakers on the panel expressed serious concerns over the CMS motion to kill the state's appeal. House Chair Richard Farnsworth, a Portland Democrat, says it leaves Maine in no position to bargain.

"That places the whole process of appeal of the previous decision to suspend funding right back to ground zero - and that's scary," Farnsworth says.

Scary, say lawmakers, because of the potential for Maine to lose $20 million a year in federal funds, and also be forced to pay the government back any Medicaid funds being used now at Riverview since the termination of payments in early September.

State Rep. Deb Sanderson, a Chelsea Republican, says the state's current use of Medicaid funds at Riverview needs to be clarified.

"If we are still in the current posture of pulling down federal funds for services being rendered, and our appeals are not successful, I mean, we stand in a vulnerable position of having to pay back a tremendous amount of federal funding," Sanderson said.

Sanderson and other Republicans on the committee say they are anxious to see the state's position on the CMS motion for summary judgment, a response that is still in the process of being filed by the Maine Attorney General's Office.

Photo:  Mal Leary

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