February 12, 2013

Mayhew to Fla. lawmakers: Don't expand Medicaid

Maine's DHHS chief says the state's decision a decade ago to increase Medicaid eligibility didn't live up to expectations.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Mary Mayhew, commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, is expected to warn Florida lawmakers that increasing Medicaid eligibility won't significantly reduce uninsured rates.

Joe Phelan / Staff Photographer

However, last summer the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the penalty provision, effectively removing the federal stick to increase Medicaid eligibility. But the carrot – millions in federal money – remains a consideration for governors who are facing difficult budgets due to Medicaid.

Proponents of expansion argue that it would save Mainers money because needy residents would no longer have to get charity care in hospital emergency rooms. That care, advocates argue, is often funded through higher premiums for those with private insurance.

In Florida, advocates for expansion have secured a key ally, the Florida Hospital Association, the group representing that states’ hospitals. Hospitals generally support expansion due to the expectation that it will reduce the number of uninsured and charity, or uncompensated, care hospitals have to provide.

On Monday, Bragdon and Mayhew attempted to puncture that narrative, telling Florida lawmakers that increasing Medicaid eligibility has not tamped down charity care provided by Maine's 39 hospitals.

A recent report by the Portland Press Herald showed that uncompensated care by Maine hospitals has doubled over the last five years, from $94 million to $194 million.

The Maine Hospital Association, which could be the beneficiary of LePage’s proposal to borrow money to pay down the hospital reimbursement debt, has remained silent on Medicaid expansion. 

While Maine increased Medicaid eligibility about 10 years ago,  LePage has since petitioned the federal government to decrease eligibility. Some of those efforts have been rejected by the Obama administration and are a factor in a $100 million Medicaid shortfall currently confronting lawmakers.

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