Democrats move forward with Medicaid expansion bill

AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — Democrats are moving forward with their plan to link expansion of Medicaid to payment of the state’s $484 million hospital debt. In a party-line vote, the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee voted 7-5 to approve the bill Thursday.

Both parties held news conferences Thursday on the issue. Democrats say it’s important to move forward with expansion now because more than 10,000 Mainers will lose Medicaid to budget cuts in January if the state doesn’t take the federal government’s expansion deal. The deal would expand coverage to close to 70,000 more Mainers, and Democrats point to a Kaiser Family Foundation study that says it will save the state $690 million dollars over the next decade.

House Speaker Mark Eves said, “We must do this for the 70 thousand Mainers who are uninsured. We must do this for the hospitals. We must do this for the State of Maine.”

Republicans say they’re not necessarily against expansion, but they don’t have enough information to make a decision yet. They said the Department of Health and Human Services is estimating that the cost of expansion could be more than $100 million dollars in year five, and that’s a big concern. Governor LePage also has sent a letter to the federal government with a number of questions he has on expansion and has yet to hear back.

Assistant Senate Republican Leader Roger Katz said, “The bottom line is that, by trying to link Medicaid expansion to the unrelated topic of paying the hospitals, Democratic leadership is putting tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer money at risk.”

The governor has pledged to veto a bill combining both Medicaid expansion with the hospital debt payment.