May 16, 2013

Medicaid, hospital debate rages on in Augusta

'To do one without the other would leave the job half done,' Democratic leader Mark Eves says, but Republicans are reluctant to expand Medicaid.

By Steve Mistler
State House Bureau

(Continued from page 1)

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To do one without the other would leave the job half done,” says Maine Speaker of the House Mark Eves, D-North Berwick. (AP Photo/Joel Page)

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“There is no connection between paying an overdue (hospital) bill left on my desk when I took office and increasing welfare (Medicaid),” Gov. Paul LePage says.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

LePage, who has final authority to initiate the bonds, has said he won't authorize the borrowing until the Legislature approves his hospital plan.

Democrats have criticized the governor's ultimatum linking bonds and the hospital payments, saying he is holding the Maine economy hostage. On Thursday, Republicans and LePage leveled an identical charge at Democrats for linking the hospital debt to Medicaid.

"There is no connection between paying an overdue (hospital) bill left on my desk when I took office and increasing welfare (Medicaid)," LePage said in a prepared statement. "Maine people are tired of politics; they want results."

The rhetoric continued throughout the day, as Republicans urged the Democratic majority to split the two proposals.

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, said Republicans don't oppose expanding Medicaid but need more time to weigh the effects.

Eves, however, said all signals from the LePage administration are that it would reject expansion. He said Democrats don't have a "willing partner" to reach a compromise.

LePage has not said definitively that he will veto the Democratic plan. But Jeff Austin, lead lobbyist for the Maine Hospital Association -- which supports expansion and the payback plan as separate measures -- said Wednesday that he expects the administration would resist a combination.

Fredette said his caucus will fight the Democratic plan and seek to amend it, possibly by creating a study commission to review the effects of Medicaid expansion.

Studying the impact has been the de facto position of Republican lawmakers in other states, while Democrats continue to push for participation.

In Florida, the political dynamic paralyzed the Legislature. Although Republican Gov. Rick Scott said he supported expansion for an estimated 115,000 Floridians, the Republican-led Legislature rejected the proposal.

Missouri lawmakers produced a similar result. Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon supported expansion, but Republican lawmakers ultimately settled on a study commission. Montana, Idaho, South Dakota and Wyoming have also delayed expansion.

Republican governors in other states have expanded Medicaid coverage, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.

Twenty states and the District of Columbia are participating in expansion, while 14 plan to reject it. Another 16 remain undecided.

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

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