The Maine legislature is currently considering a bill that would provide an additional 15 percent to the MaineCare reimbursement rate to three island eldercare facilities, including Chebeague’s Island Commons. This differential recognizes increased operating costs that eldercare facilities face on unbridged islands.
If approved, the new reimbursement rate would help offset higher costs to provide critical services and contribute toward reducing the continual operating deficits at the Island Commons and similar non-profit care facilities on Vinalhaven and Isleboro.
During a recent legislative hearing on the measure, Sen. Eric L. Brakey, chairman of the Committee on Health and Human Services, said that islanders make a choice to live in more expensive areas and that the additional cost of that personal choice should not be passed on to Maine taxpayers.
This opinion warrants closer attention, for many island residents live where they do as a result of deep and long-standing family roots in their island communities. They expect to remain there as they age.
For generations, islanders have contributed to Maine’s economy, its heritage and its identity of self-reliance and community strength. Many know no life but island life. They hold the historical pieces of a culture that is rapidly disappearing. Lifelong islanders should not have to pack up and leave their homes, families and friends and move to the mainland because essential services are unaffordable on an island.
Maine’s islands must not become just the province of the wealthy. Indeed, part of what makes Maine a thriving vacationland is the hard work and commitment of island families.
If the supplemental reimbursement is approved for these three small facilities, the fiscal impact on the State of Maine will be minimal, but the benefit to one of Maine’s distinctive populations will be great.
Name of the bill:
Legislative Document 63: Resolve, to Require the Department of Health and Human Services to Provide Supplemental Reimbursement to Adult Family Care Homes and Residential Care Facilities in Remote Island Locations.
Link to the bill: https://legiscan.com/ME/text/LD63/2015
(Among the bill’s co-sponsors — and strong supporters — are Sen. Cathy Breen of Cumberland and Rep. Janice Cooper of Yarmouth.)
The cost of daily care per resident at the Island Commons is $187. The current MaineCare daily reimbursement rate is $114 per Commons resident. (Many private nursing homes and assisted living homes in the state refuse to accept MaineCare patients simply because state subsidies are so low.)
Historically, about two-thirds of the Commons residents depend on MaineCare. More than half of Chebeague’s population is over 65 and many are of modest means, and thus qualify for MaineCare benefits.
Although MaineCare makes no provision for the increased operating costs of providing services on islands, those costs are significant. In 2014, the Island Commons’ food budget totaled $17,000. The cost of getting that food to the island added another $5,164. The Commons paid an additional 23% over mainland prices for fuel oil, 67 % more for gasoline, and about a third more for maintenance services.
In many cases, moving an elderly family member to a mainland care facility could be economically devastating because of the cost of travel and loss of time at work. The emotional trauma of removing an elderly person from all that is familiar, isolating them from family and friends, is impossible to calculate.
It is only through islanders’ dedication and commitment — and major, ongoing fundraising efforts — that the doors of the Commons remain open. Eldercare services underwritten with public funds and widely available on the mainland are not provided by the state simply because of our island location.
The Island Commons was born out of a belief that those who have spent a lifetime building an island community deserve to remain there as they age. This is what islanders do: We look after each other.
LD 63 will help ensure we can continue to do that.
The Joint Committee on Health and Human Services approved the measure by a vote of 14-2. It is expected to pass the House within the next week and will then move on to the Senate, where its passage is uncertain. It is critical that our representatives hear from islanders about how beneficial this measure will be to eldercare facilities like the Island Commons.
Correspondence regarding the measure, by personal letter or email, should be directed to the following as soon as possible:
Sen. Eric L. Brakey Chair Committee on Health and Human Services c/o Legislative Information 100 State House Station Augusta, ME 04333 Senate Republican Office phone (207) 287-1505 firstname.lastname@example.org
Sen. Earle L. McCormick Committee on Health and Human Services c/o Legislative Information 100 State House Station Augusta, ME 04333 Senate Republican Office phone (207) 287-1505 email@example.com
Sen. Anne M. Haskell Committee on Health and Human Services c/o Legislative Information 100 State House Station Augusta, ME 04333 Senate Democratic Office phone (207) 287-1515 firstname.lastname@example.org
Rep. Drew Gattine Chair Committee on Health and Human Services c/o Legislative Information 100 State House Station Augusta, ME 04333 State House Message phone (800) 423-2900 email@example.com
Our representatives in Augusta:
Sen. Cathy Breen
Rep. Janice Cooper