AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Senate has sustained Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a bill that would have expanded Medicaid in Maine under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act.
At about noon Friday, the 22-13 vote fell two votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto and marked the third time since last year that the Legislature has failed to override LePage’s veto of the issue. Having been proposed by two Republican senators, the bill that failed Friday was seen as the best chance at attracting enough support to win enactment.
But House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, who has been one of the most ardent expansion supporters in the Legislature, said the issue isn’t over.
“It is a deeply tragic and troubling day when politics stands in the way of life-saving health care,” said Eves. “Ideology trumped common sense and compassion. Maine people can be assured, this fight is not over.”
LePage, in a written statement, said Friday’s vote would avoid fiscal disaster for Maine.
“I commend the senators who had the courage to stand firm against liberal politicians and do what is right for the hard-working Mainers who would have had to foot the bill for this massive expansion,” said LePage.
LD 1487 was developed as a compromise bill that included cost-control measures and a sunset provision that would have required the Legislature to revisit the issue in three years, after 100-percent funding for expansion costs, which are promised by the federal government under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, begins to ratchet down to 90 percent funding.
However, the compromise failed to attract enough Republicans, whose firm opposition in effect kills the possibility of Medicaid expansion this year, though there are other expansion bills proposed. GOP senators repeated long-heard arguments that the expansion would be fiscally devastating for the state’s budget in the long term.
Several Senate Democrats argued that expansion would save lives and benefit Maine families, many of whom are working and would purchase health insurance if they could afford it.
Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, said he depends on the taxpayer-funded health insurance plan he and other lawmakers receive, but that in a way, he’s ashamed of it.
“It’s hard to go back home and see those people, those families and people who don’t have health care, who have lost health care, when I’m standing before them with government-sponsored health care,” said Jackson. “It’s really embarrassing and shameful for me.”
Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, said his opposition to expansion is largely about the cost.
“I do not have money to pay for other people’s health insurance,” he said. “Neither do my parents and neither do my grandparents. We have a hard enough time taking care of ourselves.”
Organizations across Maine were quick to express disappointment, including AARP Maine.
“On behalf of our 230,000 members in Maine, AARP is dismayed that the Maine Senate was unable to work together in the spirit of bipartisanship to override the governor’s veto,” said Rich Livingston, volunteer state president of the organization. “Senators with concerns had those concerns addressed through the budget process, but the Senate as a whole missed a critical opportunity to overcome their difference.
After the Senate debate on Friday, some supporters who had been watching it were ushered out of the chamber for chanting “We’ll remember in November.”