March 20, 2019
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Advocacy groups put pressure on Maine lawmakers to support Medicaid expansion

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
The State House in Augusta, as seen Monday, March 11, 2013.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A coalition of advocacy groups, including AARP Maine, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and the American Heart Association, will launch newspaper and radio advertisements Tuesday urging legislators to support a plan that would allow the state to expand Medicaid benefits under the Affordable Care Act.

The ad campaign comes after a weekend in which Republican Gov. Paul LePage and Democratic legislative leaders sparred over the proposal and whether it should be linked to a plan to repay the state’s Medicaid debt to Maine’s hospitals.

LePage and Republican legislative leaders remained more focused Monday on repaying the state’s $186 million share of an overall $484 million Medicaid debt to Maine’s 39 hospitals.

On Monday, the governor issued a statement challenging Democratic legislative leaders to schedule an up-or-down vote on his proposal to use revenue bonds derived from renegotiating the state’s wholesale liquor contract to repay the hospitals.

House Republican Leader Ken Fredette of Newport followed with a statement echoing LePage’s call. “Paying our bills to Maine’s hospitals is the one big issue we’re all in agreement on at the State House and indeed throughout the state,” Fredette said. “It deserves a clean, up-or-down vote.”

“Maine has an opportunity to expand access to health care to thousands of people, while also reducing health care costs and providing a boost to our economy,” Becky Smith, director of government relations for the American Heart Association in Maine, said Monday in a prepared statement. “Our goal is to raise awareness about this important issue and encourage Mainers to let their voices be heard.”

The ads provide a toll-free phone number that Mainers can call to urge their legislators to support the Medicaid expansion. The release announcing the ads cites a Maine People’s Resource Center poll showing that 68 percent of respondents support the expansion. The Maine People’s Resource Center is affiliated with the Maine People’s Alliance, a liberal advocacy group that opposes many of LePage’s policies.

The group, called the Cover Maine Now! Coalition, also has begun collecting signatures on a petition encouraging legislators to support the Medicaid expansion, according to the release.

Under the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care reform law, Maine has the option of expanding Medicaid. Under the law, the federal government will cover 100 percent of costs for newly eligible Medicaid recipients for three years. The 100 percent funding will gradually drop to 90 percent in 2020, and states will have to make up the remaining share.

Rep. Linda Sanborn, D-Gorham, has introduced legislation calling for Maine to participate in the expansion. The LePage administration has generally opposed expanding Medicaid, but his administration began discussing the possibility with federal officials after a number of other Republican governors said they would accept the federal Medicaid funds in their states.

Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew last month sent a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius requesting more flexibility and more funding — 10 years of full federal expansion funding rather than the three prescribed in law — as a condition for Maine to expand Medicaid.

LePage said Saturday that Mayhew is traveling to Washington, D.C., this week discuss details with federal officials.

“We’re concerned that Democrats are so willing to take the first deal offered to them by the federal government without carefully considering the long-term ramifications, especially since most of our state’s fiscal woes come from our last Medicaid expansion,” Assistant House Republican Leader Alexander Willette of Mapleton said by email Monday. “Republicans support the governor’s approach of negotiating with the feds to get the best deal possible for Maine if we proceed with expansion and ensure that we won’t be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in additional welfare spending.”

Because Maine is one of a handful of states that have already expanded Medicaid to many of the people who would be newly eligible in most other states, the state can qualify for an increased matching rate for some of the residents it’s already covering, about 10,000 adults without children.

As a result of this increased federal funding rate, a recent Kaiser Family Foundation analysis projected that Maine would be one of 10 states to see the amount of state funds it spends on Medicaid actually drop over the next decade — by $570 million, or 3.8 percent — while the federal share of Medicaid expenses would rise by $3.1 billion, or 11.4 percent.

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