Americans for Prosperity argues that Medicaid expansion in Maine would drain funds for local services

Posted Jan. 28, 2014, at 5:16 p.m.
Carol Weston
Carol Weston

AUGUSTA, Maine — A town official and a school board member on Tuesday spoke out against Medicaid expansion, which they say will make it harder for the state to pay for municipal revenue sharing and education.

At a sparsely attended State House news conference organized by the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, Laura Parker, a selectwoman from Sidney, said Democrats’ effort to expand Medicaid eligibility for somewhere between 70,000 and 100,000 Mainers would mean cuts in other areas of state spending — most likely funding for the state’s towns and cities.

“I’d like those who support expansion to explain how to do it without cutting funding to our towns or raising taxes,” Parker said.

Expanding Medicaid eligibility, a key provision of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, would make any Mainer with an income that’s less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level eligible for government-funded health insurance, known here as MaineCare.

The federal government would cover the full cost of expansion for three years before winnowing down its level of support to 90 percent thereafter. The speakers at Tuesday’s event echoed legislative Republicans and Gov. Paul LePage, saying the federal government couldn’t be trusted to provide the funds it promises, and that Maine could not afford its share.

Carol Weston, a former lawmaker and executive director of Americans for Prosperity’s Maine chapter, compared Medicaid spending to Pacman, saying it was eating up everything in its path.

Brian Powers, a school committee member from Hope, lamented the state’s failure to meet its statutory obligation to fund 55 percent of the total cost of public K-12 education in Maine. “Yet we’re talking about expansion of a program that encourages people to be dependent,” he said.

“We can’t continue to fund everything out there,” he continued. “The Legislature needs to realize we can’t be all things to all people.”

Each side has its own set of numbers and studies backing up its point.

Republicans and other opponents of expansion have cited figures from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, which say the plan would cost more than $70 million in the first biennium after federal funding levels drop from 100 percent, and more than $250 million in the ensuing two budget cycles. A report by the conservative Alexander Group of Rhode Island said expansion would cost Maine more than $800 million over 10 years.

Democrats point to figures by the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal and Program Review that indicate expansion would save the state $8.3 million in its first three years and leverage $1.1 billion in federal funds during that period. In the fourth year, the cost to the state would be about $5.2 million, according to OFPR, while the federal government would chip in nearly $349 million.

Any costs associated with expansion will more than be covered by offsets and savings of the program, said House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, on Tuesday. Eves is a lead sponsor on one of two Medicaid expansion bills under consideration this session.

“We know the federal government will pick up the tab for programs that the state is fully funding now,” said Eves in a written statement. Eves went on to cite studies by the Kaiser Foundation, Harvard University and the Rand Corporation that show Maine could reap big savings if the state expands Medicaid eligibility.

“The reality is the clock is ticking,” he wrote. “With each day that passes, Maine loses out on more than an additional $700,000 per day. We simply can not afford to turn down these dollars or the thousands of jobs they will create and the lives they will save.”

Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.

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