April 3, 2013

Maine Medicaid debate: Cost vs. benefits

Backers and skeptics make their cases on a bill seeking to have Maine cover more people under Obamacare.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Speaker of the House Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, introduces L.D. 1066, "An Act To Increase Access to Health Coverage and Qualify Maine for Federal Funding," on Tuesday April 2, 2013 before the Health and Human Services Committee in the Cross Building in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

She said the state's population of about 10,000 childless adults -- non-disabled people earning up to $11,490 a year -- also would receive the lower federal reimbursement.

Some of the administration's estimates directly conflicted with data compiled by Maine Equal Justice Partners, an advocacy group for low-income Mainers that belongs to Cover Maine Now!, a coalition of businesses, doctors and health care advocacy groups.

Equal Justice's Sara Gagne-Holmes told lawmakers that the childless adult population could qualify for 100 percent federal reimbursement. She cited a recent rulemaking by the Obama administration.

The conflict over reimbursement rates was upstaged at Tuesday's hearing by health care advocates and Medicaid recipients who argued that increasing coverage was a matter of life and death.

Some Medicaid recipients slated to lose coverage following recent legislative changes to decrease eligibility also testified. 

Patricia Kidder, from Sanford, said she and her husband recently lost their coverage.

“Low-income adult individuals, ages 22 through 64, need you to accept the federal funds and expand MaineCare," Kidder said. "We need it to stay alive.”

Amy Madden, a doctor representing the Maine Medical Association, said health care costs were high, but limiting coverage wouldn't help.

"When we limit access, such as rejecting these expansion funds and continuing the status quo, we do not eliminate the need for health care," Madden said. "We just allow individuals and families to fall into debt and bankruptcy, and we continue to shift costs onto those who provide and have health insurance."

A recent Harvard study found that expansions of Medicaid coverage were associated with improvement in a state population's overall health status and a significant reduction in death rates.

Nonetheless, skeptics argued that the success of expansion was contingent on the federal government keeping its funding promise.

Fredette, the House Republican leader, urged the Health and Human Services Committee to work in a bipartisan manner and to support LePage, who he said is negotiating with the Obama administration to "get the best deal" for Mainers if Medicaid is expanded.

That deal may include allowing Maine to have more control over its Medicaid program through a so-called global waiver. The Obama administration has granted some states additional flexibility, but it's unclear if it will green-light a global waiver that would allow states to decrease Medicaid coverage if federal reimbursement rates decline.

Alfond told the committee that Democratic leaders were glad that LePage was open to expansion. But he said the current package offered by the federal government is one Maine can't afford to bypass.

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


On Twitter: @stevemistler

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