July 18, 2019
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Maine plans big Medicaid expansion push this week

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Gov. Janet Mills makes an appearance in the gallery of a Portland courtroom the morning of Nov. 7, 2018, where Medicaid expansion was being debated.

Good morning from Augusta. Maine is promising “a big week” for its Medicaid expansion push after enrolling more than 2,100 people in the nascent program so far during the first month of Gov. Janet Mills’ tenure ahead of her first budget proposal.

Enrollment should increase heavily in the coming weeks as the state rolls out a communication plan and looks at ways to automatically enroll certain people. The Democratic governor’s new administration has worked quickly to get the expansion — approved by voters in 2017 and long stymied by former Gov. Paul LePage — off the ground under Jeanne Lambrew, the acting commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services who is expected to be confirmed to her position early next month.

It has led to 2,112 people being enrolled in expansion so far, according to a DHHS update. Until Maine’s expansion plan is approved by the federal government, Mills’ administration is paying for expansion with surplus Medicaid funds. The governor is planning to float a long-term way to fund it in her two-year budget proposal due next month. It will fuel legislative debate this year.

The department is expecting that number to rise sharply this week, with eligibility workers returning from training. It also said the state will launch a communications plan that Mills teased earlier this month. Mills spokesman Scott Ogden said the state will “engage with stakeholders and proactively reach out to Maine people” to help them understand eligibility.

Many of these new enrollees could come from other programs. The department has been piloting a way to automatically enroll people who are in other government programs, including a state low-cost drug program that also has income limits.


Today in A-town

It’s a slow start to a busy week today in Augusta. The Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife will meet this morning, and, later this afternoon, the Committee on State and Local Government will gather. Both committees are scheduled for orientation activities today and will begin public hearings on proposed bills at their next meetings.

The messaging fight against the state’s utilities — particularly Central Maine Power amid a state investigation into reports of high customer bills and increasing opposition to a power corridor from Quebec to Massachusetts via Maine — will continue when Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, the co-chair of the Legislature’s energy committee, holds a Monday news conference to roll out a legislative proposal that he says would lower bills and improve the grid’s efficiency.

Legislative committee confirmation hearings for Mills’ commissioner nominees will begin Tuesday and continue through Friday. All but one of Mills’ picks — Amanda Beal, nominated to lead the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry — are scheduled to be interviewed this week. Once committees have voted on their nominee, recommendations will be passed to the Senate for a final vote. View the full committee calendar here.


Reading list

— Two students at a Maine university say the administration mishandled allegations that they were sexually assaulted. In one woman’s case, administrators at the University of Maine at Farmington allowed her alleged attacker to remain on campus after a committee found him responsible for sexually assaulting her and issued a two-year suspension. But the president of the university at the time stepped into the proceedings to overturn the finding. The president’s closing rebuke was to “strongly urge” the woman to seek alcohol counseling, making her feel like she was being blamed for the worst experience of her life. When the school’s response to both alleged victims was described to three national Title IX experts, they said there were clearly problems with due process and possibly violations of the federal law.

— With the federal government back open for now, Maine’s senior senator turned her attention to upcoming negotiations on border security. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, told a television interviewer on Sunday that lawmakers could reach an agreement on “physical barriers” for the border but not necessarily the border wall that President Donald Trump envisions. Collins said that an agreement to strengthen security along the southern border will likely include a combination of technology, more Border Patrol agents and immigration judges, and physical barriers, but not necessarily a wall across its full length. The congressional negotiations come after Trump backed down on his demands for border wall funding in any bill to end the longest federal government shutdown in history.

— Maine state government continues to stumble in its efforts to put in place a system to sell recreational marijuana. Maine Public reports that the state has voided a contract won by a California consultant to propose rules and procedures for retail marijuana sales, which Maine voters approved in 2016. The move raised concerns that the already much-delayed rollout of the state’s recreational pot system would slow even more. But Dick Thompson, deputy commissioner at the Department of Administration and Finance, said his agency is now drafting a revised request for proposals with the goal of completing the market regulations and having a retail pot sales system in place by the end of this year.

— Maine’s new governor is moving ahead with plans to install solar panels at the Blaine House. As Mike Shepherd tweeted Friday and the Associated Press reported Saturday, state government has put the project out to bid after Mills announced her plan to erect solar panels at the governor’s mansion in her inaugural address.


The Codgers are Alright

I received an email last week offering me a chance to get in early on tickets for a Fenway Park concert by The Who on Sept. 13.

At first, I thought it was a Friday the 13th trick. Half the original band is dead and the remaining members are in their 70s.

I guess as long as at least one member is alive, the band plays on.

My relationship with The Who dates back to when all four original members were still alive. Our middle school music teacher — who wore tie-dyed dresses and flowers in her long black hair — devoted almost a whole quarter to having us listen to “Tommy” because it was a rock opera. I think her lesson plan basically boiled down to: Why listen to Verdi when you could rock out to Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend? I was pretty ambivalent, although listening to The Who beat trying to play “ Winchester Cathedral” on a Tonette.

She was gone the next year, and her replacement made us listen to recordings of more traditional operas. When I protested, she sent me to the principal’s office. So I guess The Who’s message of rebellion and questioning of authority had sunk in.

All these years later, I wonder how 70-year-old millionaires will be able to convey that same sense of rebellion in a concert series sponsored by a casino and a major league baseball conglomerate. Perhaps the playlist will rely heavily on “ The Who Sell Out.” Here is your soundtrack. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Alex Acquisto and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to receive Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings. Click here to subscribe to the BDN.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but email us directly at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, aacquisto@bangordailynews.com, and rlong@bangordailynews.com.



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