Politics

May 21, 2013

Maine Senate backs bill to expand Medicaid, pay hospital debt

The bill, fiercely opposed by Republicans, is designed to combine one of the Democrats' leading policy initiatives with Gov. LePage's payback plan.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Sen. John Patrick, D-Rumford, said that "if welfare is providing health care for people living on the margins" and "scraping by with poverty wages," he would support such a measure "every time."

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the expansion would cover non-elderly adults earning as much as 133 percent of the federal poverty level, just over $20,500 a year for a two-person household. The CBO estimated that 49 percent of those affected by expanded Medicaid eligibility earn $5,745 a year or less.

The same study estimated that 37 percent of the people who would gain coverage would be 35 to 54 years old, and 11 percent would be 55 to 64.

Woodbury, the independent senator, said expanding Medicaid would help the state eliminate the "eligibility cliff," meaning it would help people earning just above 133 percent of the poverty level by creating a new baseline for insurance subsidies available under the Affordable Care Act.

"That's what makes (the health care law) work," he said.

Also Monday, Cover Maine Now!, a coalition of 85 organizations, delivered nearly 3,000 signed petitions urging lawmakers to participate in the expansion.

"The Legislature and the governor have an opportunity right now to change lives, to help families be more secure, to stimulate our economy, to reduce insurance costs for business owners, to create jobs. And, most importantly, to save lives," said Sara Gagn?olmes, executive director of Maine Equal Justice Partners, a progressive advocacy group for low-income residents. "There are few matters of public policy that can have such a dramatic effect on so many people."

Roger Katz, R-Augusta, the assistant Republican leader in the Senate, said the combination effort could delay the hospitals' repayment. He said there are too many unknown cost factors associated with Medicaid expansion.

"There may be good and compelling reasons on both sides (to expand Medicaid)," said Katz, and other members of his party are open to expansion. "We're not ready to have that debate today."

Sen. Patrick Flood, R-Winthrop, said linking them jeopardizes two worthy initiatives.

The bill faces more votes in the House and the Senate before going to LePage.

Sen. Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, said there is no question what awaits the bill: a veto by the governor.

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

smistler@pressherald.com

Twitter: @stevemistler

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Today's poll: Medicaid expansion

Should Maine expand eligibility for Medicaid, the public insurance program for the poor?

Yes

No

View Results

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