In rallies Thursday, Oct. 14, at five hospitals around Maine, supporters of Paul LePage, the Republican candidate for governor, urged the state to pay hospitals some $378 million it owes them in MaineCare reimbursements.

LePage blamed the under-funding of hospitals on “the majority party in Augusta [Democrats],” and, by extension, his Democratic opponent for governor, Sen. Elizabeth “Libby” Mitchell.

At MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta, about a dozen LePage supporters gathered outside to hear Rep. Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, read a letter from LePage, who was appearing at a similar rally at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston.

“We are saying it is time for Augusta to pay its bills,” LePage wrote. “Working Maine families know that their budgets are not balanced until all the bills are paid. The neighbor down the street who delivers the firewood, the utilities, the mortgage and the taxes all have to be paid.”

LePage said the same rules, as outlined in the Maine Constitution, are supposed to apply to Maine state government. He said Democrats are “ignoring this constitutional mandate as they fund an ever-expanding collection of programs and services. It is a practice that would put any Maine homeowner into foreclosure and any Maine firm out of business.”

The hospital debt is creating a financial crisis at many Maine hospitals, said LePage, who cited two examples.

Goodall Hospital in Sanford, he said, last year announced a $2.3 million budget cut and layoffs of 30 full-time-equivalent positions and a freeze of $700,000 in capital expenditures.

Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston announced in September a plan to reduce $11 million in spending that would result in 35 employees’ losing their jobs.

In his letter, LePage did not say where he would find the money to pay the hospital debt.

“Paul is the only candidate who has made this a priority,” said Nutting.

Nutting said two thirds of the hospital debt is owed by the federal government, but the federal funding can only be triggered by an initial payment of one third of the debt with state money.

“It will be very difficult to pay that bill all at once, but we need to start addressing this problem,” said Nutting, who added that the state owes MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta some $27 million.

Nutting said the hospital debt dates back to 2007.

John Martins, a spokesman for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, said that in his eight years in office, Democratic Gov. John Baldacci had settled hospital debt dating back to 1993. “He’s wiped out 14 years of debt that he inherited,” said Martins.

Martins said MaineCare is Maine’s version of Medicaid for low-income persons. Almost 300,000 Mainers are on some form of MaineCare.

Brenda Harvey, commissioner of health and human services, said the growth in hospital costs had been beyond what was budgeted. Harvey said Republican legislators voted along with Democrats for the last three budgets, which were enacted in bipartisan fashion.

“Everyone recognizes that this is something that has to be dealt with,” Harvey said. “Hospitals are the number-one expenditure in the Medicaid program.”

David Loughran, spokesman for Libby Mitchell, said, “The fact is the hospitals have been paid more than $3 billion since 2003. Libby believes the state should pay its bills. She’ll work with hospitals to make sure they get the money they’re owed.”

Loughran added, “I would like to ask Paul LePage where he’s going to get the money to pay the hospitals, fund his $1 billion economic plan and reject federal funding for Maine schools.”

Kevin Scott, independent candidate for governor, said, “This illustrates his [LePage’s] lack of understanding of the issue. We need sound policy and solutions, not rhetoric. I have a plan that will address this issue.”