Republican-led MaineCare expansion passes in Senate, but LePage veto looms

Republican-led MaineCare expansion passes in Senate, but LePage veto looms

The Maine Senate on Tuesday voted 18-17 in favor of legislation sponsored by Republican Senator Tom Saviello to accept federal dollars to expand access affordable health care for low-income Mainers. All 15 Democratic and three Republican senators voted in favor of the bill.

The proposal to accept federal funds would provide health insurance to nearly 80,000 Mainers and would bring more more than $2 billion to the state, creating an estimated 3,000 jobs.

“Accepting federal healthcare funds would be good for the thousands of uninsured Mainers who are one accident or illness away from financial catastrophe. It would also support thousands of jobs and infuse hundreds of millions of dollars into the state’s economy,” said Christy Daggett of the Maine Center for Economic Policy in testimony on the bill. “Three years ago, we would have based this assertion on economic projections. Today, we can base it on the experience in so many other states that have accepted federal healthcare funds. In those states, health care systems are on firmer financial footing, the percentage of people without health insurance is shrinking faster, job growth is greater in the health care sector, and their state balance sheets are healthier as a result of accepting federal funds.”

The increased coverage would also help to address Maine’s opioid addiction crisis, a fact that was brought up often in debate on the bill.

“This money will provide budget relief to our communities, where criminal justice and correctional systems have become de facto drug treatment and mental health care centers for the uninsured,” said Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham in a statement on the vote. “States like Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois and Washington are all seeing millions of dollars in savings to their criminal justice and corrections system. Like them, Maine can better provide for our criminal justice and health care systems if we pass this bill.”

The conservative proposal, similar to bills approved by Republican legislatures and governors in other states, uses Medicaid to provide coverage to the poorest Mainers and private health insurance to expand access to affordable care for other low-income residents. It requires eligible enrollees to contribute to the cost of their care.

Despite the support from some Republicans, Governor Paul LePage is expected to veto the proposal, just as he has done with several previous MaineCare expansion attempts. As there doesn’t appear to be the level of support in the Senate necessary for an override, a veto would likely mean leaving the federal funds unclaimed and leaving tens of thousands of Mainers uninsured.

“Far too many hard-working Maine people go without access to quality affordable health care and as a result suffer unnecessarily,” said Father Richard Senghas, a priest and medical doctor who testified on behalf of the Roman Catholic Diocese in favor of the bill. “These people are our neighbors, our friends, our fellow Americans. Affordable and accessible health care for them is a good thing morally, ethically, medically, and fiscally.”

Photo via Andi Parkinson.

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