Senate snuffs LePage veto; bill that pays to help MaineCare recipients quit smoking to become law

Posted Jan. 21, 2014, at 12:31 p.m.
Gov. Paul LePage
Kevin Bennett
Gov. Paul LePage Buy Photo

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Senate voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to override Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a bill that would require the state’s Medicaid program to fully fund tobacco cessation treatment.

The Senate’s 31-4 vote Tuesday morning follows a strong rejection of the governor’s veto on Thursday in the House, which voted 131-10 in favor of overriding the veto.

Now that both chambers of the Legislature have achieved the necessary two-thirds votes against the veto, the bill goes into law 90 days after adjournment of the current legislative session, which is scheduled to occur in April.

LePage wrote in his veto letter that while he supports tobacco cessation, he could not support this bill, LD 386, because of its potential to drive up Medicaid spending when his administration is taking aggressive steps to reduce it. Part of his objection was that there will be no co-pay or cost sharing on the part of the program’s recipients.

According to a fiscal note attached to the bill, it is estimated to cost the state’s Fund for a Healthy Maine — which is supported from revenues from lawsuits against the tobacco companies — about $264,000 in the current fiscal year and $14,000 next year. That money will draw down an estimated $427,000 of federal funding in the current year and $22,000 next year. Chris Nolan, an analyst in the Office of Fiscal and Program Review, said the state’s cost for the program is partially funded in the current biennial budget.

There was no debate in the Senate preceding Tuesday’s vote, but last week in the House, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Linda Sanborn, D-Gorham, said the bill over time would result in a financial net positive for the state.

“By opening up access to treatment of tobacco addiction, we can save taxpayer money and lives,” said Sanborn, who is a retired doctor. “The scientific evidence tells us that providing access to these tools without barriers is the most effective way to help people quit smoking.”

Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, said in a news release that the cost to the state will be worth it.

“Unless you are making your money off Marlboros, I don’t know why anyone would be against helping people quit smoking,” he said. “Tobacco-related illnesses hurt our state and hurt our families. We should be doing everything we can to help people quit smoking, including passing this bill.”

Voting to sustain the veto in the Senate on Tuesday were Sen. David Burns, R-Whiting; Senate Minority Leader Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport; Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Ripley; and Sen. Rodney Whittemore, R-Skowhegan.

In the House, the 10 Republicans who voted to sustain the veto were Rep. Bernard Ayotte, R-Caswell; Rep. Dean Cray, R-Palmyra; Rep. Peter Doak, R-Columbia Falls; House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport; Rep. Jeffery Gifford, R-Lincoln; Rep. Roger Jackson, R-Oxford; Rep. Peter Johnson, R-Greenville; Rep. Ricky Long, R-Sherman; Rep. Anita Peavey Haskell, R-MIlford; and Rep. Windol Weaver, R-York.

After the Legislature’s second session convened earlier this month, LePage vetoed five bills, including LD 386, that passed in the final days of the first session. Those vetoes bumped his overall veto total to 87 during the 126th Legislature, in which Democrats hold majorities in the House and Senate.

LD 386 marks the sixth LePage veto that has been overturned during the 126th Legislature.

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