Maine lawmakers will get one more chance to do the right thing when it comes to providing health care to people in need.
On Tuesday, the House voted 97-51 to accept federal funds under the Affordable Care Act to insure as many as 70,000 people under the MaineCare program. That follows a 23-12 vote in the state Senate to expand the program. Normally, that would show strong support for a measure that was on its way to becoming a law, but no one expects it to be that easy.
The bill is headed for a likely veto by Gov. LePage, who has voiced his ideological opposition to the Affordable Care Act and the belief he shares with a handful of other tea party governors that the states can kill the program by refusing to participate in it.
He has already vetoed it once, and if he does it again, the proposal will then come back to the Legislature, where it would take a two-thirds vote from both houses to override. If the last votes don’t change, the bill will be a couple of votes short in both houses.
Republicans should not let that happen. The Maine people they represent have too much to lose.
Opponents of the bill have said Maine can’t afford to expand its health care program even with federal aid. Even though federal government promises to pay 100 percent of the cost in the first three years and no less than 90 percent after that, critics question whether Maine can trust the federal government to keep its word, or if there are some hidden costs in expansion that would leave Maine taxpayers on the hook.
There is a mountain of evidence that says they have nothing to worry about. Several national studies show that Maine would make money on the deal, and the health care spending would boost our economy.
If there are lingering doubts, they were dealt with efficiently with an amendment by Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, which would accept the federal money and hire a nonpartisan research firm to study the effects on Maine’s health care spending. At the end of three years, the Legislature would have real information about the expansion’s costs and benefits. It would take an affirmative vote by the Legislature to continue participation.
That ought to be enough, but the governor has invented new reasons to oppose the bill.
The governor announced June 3 that he could not support extending health insurance to 70,000 people when there are 3,100 elderly and disabled MaineCare patients who are on waiting lists for certain kinds of residential care. That sounds compassionate, but what happens to those people if Maine doesn’t accept the federal funds? They would still be on a waiting list. The governor has no plan to improve their care – he’s just using them.
If there are any Republicans still on the fence, they should ask themselves who stands to benefit from continuing to refuse these federal funds. They will have one more chance to do the right thing.