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Maine lawmakers consider bill to direct DHHS to ask for federal funding

LD 445 would direct DHHS to ask for federal funding to pay for Medicaid reimbursements at facilities that have 16 beds or more.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Yachia Provencher never thought she would be standing in front of lawmakers testifying on a mental health bill. But when the father of her children, Justin Butterfield, allegedly killed his brother, Gabrial Damour, on Thanksgiving day, everything changed.

"Me doing this work and speaking out and telling my story is also my healing process," she said.

Now she's telling her story to try to help other families, testifying in favor of LD 445 which would direct the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to apply for a waiver from the federal government to better reimburse mental health facilities that treat people on Medicaid.

"I'm hoping the same can happen that's already happened in Vermont and Massachusetts and Rhode Island, that they got the IMD waiver. And they used it to strengthen their community support services," former state senator John Nutting said.

At Friday's public hearing, the room seemed to be split pretty much down the middle, with a number of people also testifying against the bill.

One of them is Joe Bennett, who couldn't attend the meeting but submitted written testimony and spoke to NEWS CENTER Maine after the hearing.

He said peer respite is a better way to use federal money than mental health hospitals.

"It's better to have someone go to a peer respite, eat good food, have the difficult conversations in a safe place, not worried about getting blue papered and humiliated and their rights taken away," he said.

Simone Maline from the Consumer Council of Maine also supports peer respite and opposes this IMD waiver bill. But she says she believes there could be compromises on this bill.

"I think everyone's coming at this with the same intent of wanting to help people," she said after the hearing.

While the parties differ on how to best support people with severe mental illness, their goal is the same. To get them the help they need.

Provencher said it would have been something that could have changed the lives of her loved ones.

"I believe this would have saved both Justin and his brother," she said.

The Health and Human Services Committee will take all this testimony and other information provided to them to the work session where they can possibly come up with amendments and compromises before it goes to a full vote.

A representative from DHHS did not testify at this public hearing. We asked DHHS for comment on the bill and a spokesperson says the department has not taken a position on it.

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