March 11, 2013

Democrats unveil own plan to repay Maine hospital debt

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
State House Bureau

(Continued from page 1)

Last week the Maine Medical Association, the group representing the state's doctors, expressed its unqualified support for expansion, but acknowledged that wouldn't go forward without the backing of Maine's 39 hospitals.

The Maine Hospital Association supported Medicaid state-led expansion in 2003 because increasing eligibility held the promise of reducing the number uninsured, and the amount of charity care that hospitals provide.

Eves emphasized the charity care argument on Monday. He also noted that the conservative Heritage Foundation recently reported that Maine could save $690 million over the next 10 years if it participated in expansion. The Heritage report used the same savings estimate contained in an analysis by the Kaiser Foundation. 

The expansion would make 55,000 more people eligible for MaineCare, the state's Medicaid program, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Health Foundation.

Those people would be "able-bodied" parents, and adults who have no children and earn up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level -- just over $20,500 a year for a two-person household.

In addition to expansion, Democrats also expressed the need for billing transparency and cost containment. 

Billing transparency would affect the charge differential on hospital bills. Democrats said that patients currently only know what a hospital charges for services, procedure or treatments, not what the hospital actually paid for them. 

The issue was raised in a 36-page Time Magazine report that detailed a host of exorbitant charges, including $77 for a box of gauze pads. 

Austin said billing transparency is a complicated issue. However, he said, the association is open to discussing it. He also applauded Democrats for making a serious effort to repay the Medicaid reimbursement debt.

"We haven’t see the details but we’re appreciated that they’re seeking to earnestly to pay us back as the governor has been for the past several months," Austin said.

LePage testified in support of his own proposal Monday morning. Asked after the hearing what he thought of the Democratic proposal, he said he hadn't seen it. He was also asked what he thought of Democratic leaders unveiling the plan 30 minutes before lawmakers were scheduled to review his proposal. 

"Hey, it's a free country - for now," he said. 

Elements of the Democratic proposal will be included in an amendment to a bill sponsored by Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond. Goodall's bill initially proposed taking an upfront payment from the liquor contract and dumping the money into the general fund.

Democrats have argued that the LePage's plan does not include a time line to repay the hospitals. They've also questioned whether the governor's proposal violates the Maine constitution.

This story will be updated.

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