May 16, 2013

Maine Democrats meld Medicaid expansion, hospital payback

The Maine Hospital Association supports both concepts, but Republicans are angry about tying the two together and hospitals fear a LePage veto.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
State House Bureau

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

In this September 2012 file photo, a patient is wheeled out of Barbara Bush Children's Hospital at Maine Medical Center in Portland. Maine Democrats in the Legislature continued their push Wednesday for an expansion of publicly funded health insurance for low-income Mainers and moved to link the expansion with Gov. Paul LePage's plan to pay hospitals about $484 million in outstanding Medicaid reimbursements.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The federal government would pay 100 percent of the cost of the expansion from 2014 to 2016. In subsequent years, reimbursements would decline gradually to 90 percent of the cost, with the state paying the rest.

On Wednesday, Eves said the Health and Human Services Committee will send a letter to the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee recommending that Sanborn's bill to expand Medicaid be considered alongside the hospital repayment bill.

"We're excited that this is all coming together and it's happening right now," he said. "It's a follow-through on what we've been talking about related to paying back our hospitals and making sure that we don't get back here in the same situation, covering nearly 70,000 Mainers and addressing charity care, a major cost driver in our health care system."

Sen. John Tuttle, D-Sanford, the Senate chair of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, told the Portland Press Herald last week that he didn't support linking Medicaid expansion to the hospital repayment bill, which relies on revenue from the state's next wholesale liquor contract.

However, Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, said Wednesday that "through many reflections and hearing from many in his district," Tuttle has changed his mind.

"He fully understands the consequences of not accepting these dollars," Alfond said. "It means people's lives are at risk."

Republican leaders reacted angrily to the committee vote Wednesday, saying Democratic leaders didn't alert them beforehand. "Nobody has called us. There's been no smoke signals. Nobody let us know this was coming," Fredette said.

LePage, in a prepared statement, said he was "astounded by this last-minute political maneuvering to make an end run around the Maine people." He called on Democratic leaders to take a simple up-or-down vote on his hospital payback plan.

Although the committee vote was not announced in advance, advocates on both sides have been increasingly active in recent days.

Republicans and LePage's political organization, Maine People Before Politics, recently released statements and a commissioned poll that reaffirmed their position on Medicaid.

On Wednesday, the group Cover Maine Now!, a coalition of health care and progressive groups supporting Medicaid expansion, released a poll designed to show that expanding Medicaid eligibility is popular.

-- State House Bureau Writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.

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



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