AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage says he will push for a significant change in Maine’s version of the Medicaid program, MaineCare, by reducing eligibility to the level in place in most states, a move that opponents say will throw about 30,000 Mainers off the program.
“This is what the level is in 47 other states,” LePage said in an interview. “We should not be more generous than these other states, but we are and we have been and it needs to stop.”
He said he is worried that if the state continues to offer “richer” benefits than other states, there will be the risk that people will move to Maine to get those better benefits. He also said reducing the eligibility level for childless adults will not have the effect on seniors that opponents have charged, but an administration study found the effect will be more on young Mainers.
“The average age of people, childless adults in the state of Maine, the average age is 34, predominately male and working,” he said. “That’s my problem, that’s what we want to fix.”
LePage acknowledged he had tried to make the change in the two-year state budget, but it was rejected by the Appropriations Committee. He said he would again make the proposal because he believes the state cannot provide better benefits than other states.
“We’re going to go back at it in January,“ he said, “we are going to keep going at it.”
LePage said the new state health insurance law has provisions to make health insurance more affordable and he believes many of those that are between the current 200 percent of poverty level and the 133 percent can help pay for their own insurance coverage.
Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, the lead democrat on the committee, disagrees. She said the 133 percent level is $14,484 for a single adult. For a family of four, it is $29,726. She said families and individuals at those income levels simply can’t afford health insurance at current rates.
“The more health care we take away from people, the more those costs are shifted to people who have health insurance and more shifts to local communities and local hospitals,“ she said.
Rotundo said covering those families and individuals with Medicaid is cost effective for the state with the federal government paying roughly two thirds of the bill.
Sen. Richard Rosen, R-Bucksport, the co-chairman of the committee, said he agreed with the concept the governor is pushing of having individuals and families pay for part of their health care costs, but he said it is premature. He said the federal health reform law takes effect in 2014 and will provide subsidies to help those between 133 percent of the poverty level and 200 percent of the poverty level to buy health insurance.
“We have to deal with the law that is on the books and bring our system into line,“ he said.
Gov. LePage has joined with the other GOP governors in supporting repeal of that law. He has also joined in court cases seeking to strike down the law.
Sarah Gagne-Holmes, Executive Director of Maine Equal Justice Partners, a low-income advocacy group, said that the governor’s assertion that if Maine does not lower its eligibility standards it will attract the poor from other states is not true.
“We have heard that political rhetoric and anecdotes in the past and there is no data to support it,” she said, “in fact the last data I saw from the Department [of Health and Human Services] shows more people that are eligible for benefits are leaving the state than moving to the state.”
Gagne-Holmes said she is dismayed that the governor plans to push the Medicaid cuts again. She said low income advocates will certainly fight the proposal.
“I don’t see why the governor is still pushing for this,“ Rotundo said, “when this was before the committee this year the cut would have saved around $5 to $7 million. That is not a lot of savings for the costs it would shift.”
LePage said Maine cannot continue to offer “richer” benefits than other states and every dollar saved in Medicaid is a dollar that can be used for other priorities.