Fourth Medicaid expansion effort passed by Legislature

By Juliette Laaka | Apr 18, 2014
Photo by: Juliette Laaka Speaker of the House Mark Eves, a Democrat from North Berwick, proposed an amended bill to expand Medicaid that was accepted by the Legislature April 17.

Augusta — The Maine State Legislature passed a last-minute Medicaid expansion plan April 17, the fourth time in two years Maine politicians have attempted to expand health care coverage to an estimated 70,000 Mainers.

Republican Governor Paul LePage is calling the amendment, proposed by Speaker of the House Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, an 11th-hour political ploy. LePage has vetoed the previous three bills, including a Republican sponsored plan.

"Liberals push policies that will cost Maine taxpayers millions of dollars and put the state deeper into debt," LePage said in a press release, adding expansion will cannibalize the state's general fund.

The last day of the session, known as Veto Day, is Thursday, May 1.

The amendment to Eves' original bill, LD 1578, proposed in January, is modeled after a marketplace premium assistance program adopted in New Hampshire. The amendment proposes that beginning Aug. 1, assistance under the MaineCare program is provided as a bridge to purchasing coverage from a private option health plan on the federal marketplace.

In July of 2015, assistance for childless adults is limited to a subsidy in purchasing coverage from a new program, The Maine Marketplace Premium Assistance Program, administered by the Department of Health and Human Services, the amendment reads.

The House voted in favor of the amended bill 95 to 52, and the Senate voted 19 to 14 to accept the bill. The votes are not enough to override a veto.

Eves said last week passing Medicaid expansion will happen, it is just a matter of when, and how much money the state will lose out on. The federal government proposes funding 100 percent of the cost of implementing expansion until 2016, and will then fund up to 90 percent of costs. Eves said Maine has already lost out on $250 million.

Jeff Evangelos, I-Friendship said it was a big effort on Eves' part to compromise with Republicans and unfortunately, it did not attract additional votes.

In the amended bill, 55,000 of 70,000 of those covered under expansion would be shifted to a private market plan; and 15,000 individuals would remain on MaineCare. DHHS would be the administrator of the plan, which involves co-pays and deductibles, said Evangelos.

The federal money for expansion, instead of solely funding a state program, would go toward subsidies for individuals to buy private insurance.

Eligibility of MaineCare comes in two parts. It is based on income, and also a categorical need. Those categories include an individual having a disability and/or having a minor child in the home.

Under this system, a 30-year-old making less than $11,500 a year is not eligible as only his or her income qualifies for state aid. This is the individual the Affordable Care Act hoped to cover with the expansion of Medicaid.

Senator Ed Mazurek, D-Rockland, who voted in favor of the amended bill, said the chances of the bill mustering enough support to override an expected veto will be close.

"We got out late last night, it was hard to tell what the mood was," he said.

Courier Publications' reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 118 or via email at jlaaka@courierpublicationsllc.com.

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Juliette Laaka
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Juliette primarily covers the cops and courts beat for The Courier-Gazette.

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