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End Mass Criminalization ME Medicaid Expansion Maine Medicaid expansion bill passes in Senate, goes to LePage
Saturday, 26 April 2014 23:07

Maine Medicaid expansion bill passes in Senate, goes to LePage

Written by  Mario Moretto, Bangor Daily News
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All eyes are on Republican Gov. Paul LePage after the state Senate on Friday granted final passage to a bill that would expand the state’s Medicaid program to roughly 70,000 low-income Mainers under the auspices of the federal Affordable Care Act.

The Senate voted without a roll call or debate to enact the measure, following the House’s enactment on March 20.

The bill now goes to LePage, who has pledged his veto. Support in both chambers of the Legislature has so far not been strong enough to reach the two-thirds threshold necessary to override LePage’s veto. The governor has 10 days to act on the bill.

“Gov. LePage should join the 10 other Republican governors who have said yes to expansion in their states,” said Assistant Senate Majority Leader Anne Haskell, D-Portland, after the vote. “Taking the funds offered to the state is good sense and good economics. It’s time for Maine to join the rest of our New England neighbors and the 27 other states who have said yes to expansion.”

Medicaid expansion has dominated debate in the State House for the entirety of the 126th Legislature. The expansion was a linchpin in President Barack Obama’s landmark 2010 health care law, providing state-funded health insurance to anyone who make less than 138 percent the federal poverty level and subsidized private health insurance plans to anyone making between 138 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level.

But the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 struck down the provision of the law requiring Medicaid expansion, leaving the decision up to each state.

Each side in the debate, which has fallen mostly along partisan lines, has brought to the table its own studies, reports and predictions for how expansion will affect the state.

Democrats have cast the expansion as a health and economic boon, arguing it will provide lifesaving health care to Maine’s most vulnerable and save the state $690 million over 10 years, according to a Kaiser Foundation study.

Republicans have argued that Maine can little afford to expand a MaineCare program they say has crowded out spending on education and other state programs. MaineCare represents 25 percent of the state’s general fund spending. Republicans have also cited a controversial report by the Rhode Island-based Alexander Group that predicts an $807 million cost to the state over 10 years.

Despite the references to different numbers and analyses, many lawmakers have conceded that support or opposition of the bill is as ideological as it is pragmatic.

The bill approved by the Legislature was crafted by moderate Republican Sens. Roger Katz of Augusta and Tom Saviello of Wilton as a compromise, designed to bring more Republicans on board.

It combines Medicaid expansion with a plan to mandate big savings by outsourcing the publicly funded health insurance program to managed care organizations.

On paper, the bill addresses many of the concerns Republican opponents of expansion have raised for two years: The expansion lasts only as long as the federal government pays for nearly 100 percent of the cost, and it would require a vote of the Legislature to continue beyond that. It also includes an automatic opt-out if federal funding drops below promised levels. The Legislature’s nonpartisan budget analysts say the cost of the proposal is minimal.

It also uses built-in savings to clear out a waiting list of Medicaid recipients awaiting in-home and community services, which opponents have said need to be addressed before the program is expanded to include all of Maine’s poorest residents.

Still, the bill has struggled to gain Republican support. In the Senate, Katz and Saviello have been the only members of their caucus to support the bill. Even Sen. Patrick Flood, R-Winthrop, who voted for Medicaid expansion last year, opposed the measure.

Link to original article from Maine Sun Journal

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