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Maine Battle Over Medicaid Expansion Intensifies
05/03/2013   Reported By: Jay Field

The war of words over Medicaid expansion is escalating in Augusta. In his weekly radio address, Gov. Paul LePage called Democratic leaders in the Legislature "liberal elitists" for insisting that the state take federal money to expand Medicaid coverage, in exhange for repaying half-a-billion dollars owed to Maine hospitals. Democrats say offering Medicaid to more Mainers under the Affordable Care Act will save the state money over the next decade. LePage, though, calls it a massive expansion of welfare, and says Democrats aren't serious about repaying the hospitals. Jay Field has more.

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Gov. LePage records his radio address on Friday. It's usually embargoed - that means it isn't released publicly until Saturday morning. Sometimes, though, the governor wants to get his message out sooner than that. This was one of those weeks.

"Folks, I am a Franco-American," he says in the address.

Franco-Americans, LePage noted, are frugal people. They don't spend money they don't have.

"A couple of very liberal elitists in Augusta don't live by that same code," he says. "They believe that government will always provide enough money to pay for whatever programs they want - no matter how expensive they are or how much they burden Mainers."

Months ago, the governor made repaying half-a-billion dollars to Maine's 39 hospitals a top priority. LePage wants to use a revenue bond - financed by the state's future liquor profits - to pay off the debt. The proposal, he says, enjoys bipartisan support, but has hit a roadblock.

"The hold-up comes from just two people: Senate President Justin Alfond and Speaker of the House Mark Eaves," he says. "They are the Democratic leadership. And they are doing everything they can to prevent paying the hospitals."

"We are fully committed to making sure we pay the hospitals, so the governor has it wrong on this one," Eves says.

But Eves and other Democratric leaders say it would be irresponsible to pay off the debt without also addressing the one of the biggest cost drivers in the system: the free care that uninsured, low-income patients get when they show up at the hospital.

Maine, says Eves, can help ease this burden by expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. During the first three years of the law, the federal govenment is offering to pay 100 percent of the cost for newly-eligible Medicaid recipients.

"Over the course of 10 years, Maine is going to save $690 million," he says. "We are one of 10 states that are going to see our Medicaid expenditures go down over 10 years, not go up."

So Eves, Alfond and other Democratic leaders are offering LePage a deal: Agree to the Medicaid expansion and we'll sign on to the hospital repayment. In his radio address, the governor was having none of it. "Folks, let's call it what it is: Medicaid expansion is welfare expansion."

But Eves says that analogy doesn't hold water. Conservative Republican governors in several states, he notes, have already signed on to such an expansion.

"Democrats are committed to making sure we take advantage of this opportunity. It's the right thing to do to provide health care so people can go see a doctor, and it's the right thing to do fiscally, when you look at the numbers," Eves says. "And we need to get the job done."

The back and forth between LePage, Eves and other Democratic leaders will likely only intensify, as the legislative session heads towards its conclsuion in June.


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