Monday January 13, 2014 | 06:00 PM

Charles Colgan, the former state economist now with the Maine Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Southern Maine, isn't criticizing the Medicaid expansion analysis unveiled by the LePage administration last week.

But he is questioning one of the study's key assumptions.

It's an important one.

The analysis, part of the $925,000 taxpayer-funded welfare study by the Alexander Group, assumes that there will be a 33 percent increase in the number of Mainers living in poverty by 2020. The assumption has a significant impact on one of the report's head-turning findings that enrollment in Medicaid -- known in here as MaineCare -- will balloon to 124,000 people by 2023.

Previous estimates have put Medicaid expansion enrollment between 60,000 and 70,000. 

The poverty rate projection is important because the federal poverty level is the entry for people to qualify for Medicaid. Medicaid expansion would cover those who make less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level. The federal government would fully fund expansion for three years, before gradually drawing down to a 90 percent reimbursement rate by 2020 (Alexander projects that the federal reimbursement will decrease below 90 percent, an assumption that expansion supporters say is dubious.).

In other words, if the study projects higher poverty rates, so go forecasts for ballooning Medicaid enrollment and state federal costs. 

Colgan said there's no written justification for the assumption in the report. Additionally, he said, the projected poverty rate increase is counter to economic trends, which assume that Maine, and the country, are rebounding from the Great Recession, albeit slowly.

"I'm just interested in seeing how he came up with that assumption," Colgan said. "It's not explained in the report. Normally when you have key assumption like that you explain how you arrived there."

Democrats and progressive groups have been scouring the Alexander report since its release last week, so expect lots of challenges to its methodology. On Monday, Judy Solomon, vice president of health care policy for the progressive Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, tweeted that her organization saw "serious flaws" in assumptions made by Alexander. 

 

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Steve Mistler covers politics and government for the Portland Press Herald. He spends a lot of time in the hallways of the State House.

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