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Stage Set for Major Battle over Medicaid Expansion in Maine
05/16/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

The state is now set for a major legislative floor fight over Medicaid expansion, following a committee vote - divided along party lines - over a controversial liquor contract bill. The measure defines the process for re-opening the state's wholesale liquor contract for bids, and directs proceeds from those sales to repay nearly a half-billion in Medicaid debt owed to Maine's hospitals. But over Republican protests, it also now includes a last-minute demand by majority Democrats to expand Medicaid to 70,000 more Mainers. A.J. Higgins has more.

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Stage Set for Major Battle over Medicaid Expansion
Originally Aired: 5/16/2013 5:30 PM

The 11th hour effort by majority Democrats in the Maine Legislature to link expansion of Medicaid as part of the state's next liquor sales contract and hospital debt repayment plan continues to anger Republicans - including Sen. Garrett Mason, of Lisbon Falls.

"It's 100 percent inappropriate, and I think it's arrogant," Mason said.

But majority Democrats on the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee used their number advantage to force a 7 to 5 vote on a bill that will include expanding Medicaid for 70,000 Mainers under the provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act as part of the complex liquor and hospital deal.

The bill defines the process for putting Maine's liquor sales contract up for bidding, and repaying nearly a half-billion dollars in outstanding Medicaid debt to Maine's hospitals over a 10-year period. Republicans, such as Rep. David Johnson, of Eddington, say they don't necessarily object to expanding Medicaid, but they don't like the effort to link it to the so-called hospital bill.

"This to me is textbook pork barrel," Johnson said.

But Democrats again argue that it only makes sense to tap into health care dollars available under the ACA that will be used to pay the medical expenses of poor Mainers - the same people who formerly wound up as hospital charity cases, as costs were passed along to insured patients.

Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves, of North Berwick, says those costs just keep on growing. "According to the Maine Hospital Association, both bad debt and charity care was about $450 million last year, up $32 million from the year before," Eves said.

Democratic Sen. John Patrick, of Rumford, says he trusted the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee to come up with the right decisions for the liquor contract process, and he urged that the same degree of confidence be placed in members of the Health and Human Services Committee, who recommended that Medicaid expansion should be part of the hospital bill.

"I'm swallowing a lot of stuff in this bill that I can't stand, but I'm going to support it because I rely on the work that you guys have done," Patrick said.

The committee actions now set up an expected showdown between Democrats and Republicans, who say they will argue to strike the Medicaid expansion portion of the bill during floor debate.


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