May 23, 2013

Maine Medicaid bill meets its fate: passed, vetoed

Minutes after Democrats' symbolic victory, LePage wipes it out and calls for a different bill to repay Maine's hospital debt.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
State House Bureau

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Moments after it was passed, Gov. Paul LePage reads his veto message of L.D. 1546, "An Act To Strengthen Maine's Hospitals, Increase Access to Health Care and Provide for a New Spirits Contract," in the Hall of Flags on Thursday in the State House in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Gov. Paul LePage has vetoed a bill that included both Medicaid expansion and the repayment of hospital debt.

However, he and his Republican colleagues were skeptical of expanding a program that is now the source of repeated state budget shortfalls.

The federal government is promising to fully fund the expansion from 2014 to 2016, but there is no guarantee that it could fund it at 90 percent after that, Republicans said.

Katz said Democrats saw a clear path for expansion, but for Republicans, the way forward was "foggy," financially risky.

Subsequent debates became more aggressive as Democrats continued to push the combination bill.

On Tuesday, Rep. Richard Malaby, R-Hancock, said Medicaid encourages recipients to "overconsume and undervalue" insurance, and hospitals exploit the program and overbill for services.

Rep. Lawrence Lockman, R-Amherst, leveled a more direct charge at the Democrats' push for a program that he said would saddle future generations with debt.

"Why should my grandchildren not view you as a thief?" Lockman said.

The debates aren't over. Democrats hope to peel off enough Republican votes to override LePage's veto. But Republicans say they won't budge.

In fact, Republicans were claiming victory Thursday.

Sen. Mike Thibodeau of Winterport, the Senate Republican leader, mocked the Democrats' oversized check in a news release.

"I understand that following the governor's veto today, Democrat leadership displayed a symbolic check that represents payment to Maine hospitals," Thibodeau said. "I find that highly ironic, given that it was their insistence on attaching Medicaid welfare expansion to the hospital repayment that led to the veto."

The focus immediately shifted back to the hospital debt.

Will Democrats separate the two issues and pass the hospital payback plan? Will they risk being the first Legislature not to make some kind of payment on a debt that began exploding in 2002? Every Legislature has paid the hospitals since that time.

Alfond told reporters Thursday that paying the hospitals is a priority, and so is Medicaid expansion.

"The time for action is now," Alfond said. "We don't need political excuses. We don't need to draw hard lines drawn in the sand. We simply shouldn't wait to do what's right for our state, both morally and fiscally."

LePage's original hospital payback proposal is still in committee. The governor said Thursday that he will introduce an identical bill.

"I strongly urge all Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature to sustain this veto and pay their bills," he said.

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

smistler@pressherald.com

 

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