Published Date Written by David Carkhuff
The Maine Senate voted Wednesday to pass a bill that would expand Medicaid to an additional 70,000 people through funding promised by the federal government under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Democratic legislator Emily Cain, who is running for Congress in Maine's Second Congressional District, has advocated for expanding Medicaid in Maine and lauded this week's vote.
"On Sunday, I got an e-mail about a family struggling in Lincoln," said Cain in a press release. "Dwight, a long-time USW member, was recently laid off from the Lincoln mill due to the boiler explosion. And even though he and his wife have worked hard all their lives, they are now without any options for health care. This is unacceptable, and it's exactly why I support expansion of Medicaid."
The measure, LD 1487, accepts federal funds to provide healthcare coverage to an additional 70,000 people in Maine, the vast majority of whom are working but can't afford care because their employers don't provide health insurance, Cain noted.
The fate of the legislation remains unclear, however.
Senate Republican Leader Michael Thibodeau, R-Waldo, said, "Today we heard the same arguments we listened to a year ago on Medicaid expansion. Little has changed other than the building momentum against this flawed idea. Maine people recognize that we cannot afford a massive expansion of the very program that led to more than $700 million in hospital debt and is responsible for yearly state budget shortfalls. The argument for expansion has been weakened even more recently as we have learned how low income Mainers can receive significant subsides on the federal exchanges and receive health insurance for about $20 a month. In the end, I believe this proposed expansion will fail for the same reason it failed before. We cannot afford it."
A report released by the Alexander Group, Thibodeau said during an earlier debate over MaineCare expansion, showed that expanding Medicaid would cost the state an additional $807 million over a 10-year period. The report also says Medicaid would consume nearly half of the state budget by the year 2024 if the program is expanded, he noted.
Critics have challenged the legitimacy of the Alexander Report and its namesake, the state-selected consultant, Gary Alexander.
According to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (http://www.maine.gov/dhhs/budget/supplemental-proposal.shtml), in discussion of a Supplemental Budget Proposal for 2012-2013, MaineCare enrollment has risen sharply. "Since 2002, Medicaid enrollment has grown by 78 percent," the agency reported. "From 2000 to 2010, Maine's population grew only 7 percent. The number of Mainers receiving taxpayer-funded health care is 35 percent higher than the national average."
In January, Maine Gov. Paul LePage alluded to the Alexander Report in a statement about the expansion idea. Previously, the governor vetoed a similar proposal, and his veto was sustained by the Maine Legislature, effectively killing the measure.
"While liberals are busy blasting me and the Administration about hiring a consultant to analyze whether we should expand Maine's Medicaid program, the reality is the report provides a road map to save taxpayers money and improve services for the truly needy," LePage said in January.
"If Maine opts to expand Medicaid as it did 10 years ago, the report estimates it will cost the state more than $800 million — and that's without additional risk factors," LePage said. "It does not include the hundreds of millions of dollars that will be shifted onto the middle class who buy their insurance. This will cause private insurance premiums to skyrocket. When risks like the poverty rate and costs of care are taken into consideration, Maine could pay up to $3.2 billion over 10 years."
The legislation now before the Maine Legislature was sponsored by Assistant Senate Minority Leader Roger Katz of Augusta and Sen. Tom Saviello of Wilton, and dubbed a compromise. But reaction by many Republicans has been lukewarm or highly skeptical.
The campaign of Erick Bennett, a Portland resident running for U.S. Senate, announced he is running as an Independent, and not a Republican in a primary against incumbent Susan Collins. Bennett said the reason he left the Republican party is "because of policies such as promoting the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), Maine Care and massive spending increases."
Elsewhere, the debate took a sharper tone when activists waged an online campaign, called "157," in reference to the alleged number of mortalities for lack of expanded healthcare. "Number of Mainers estimated to die this year if Gov. LePage and the Legislature fail to accept federal health care funds," reads the site, http://157mainers.com.
The conservative website the Maine Wire sounded a tentative note of victory Wednesday, reporting, "Katz-Saviello Medicaid expansion bill passes Maine Senate, but fails to capture enough votes to beat Gov. LePage's inevitable veto. Looks like Medicaid expansion is dead ... until November."