Maine session preview: Rehashing a Medicaid fight


A tough session awaits Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) and the Democrat-controlled legislature. (Robert F. Bukaty/AP, File)

Maine Democrats hope to reopen a debate on expanding Medicaid in that state this legislative session, which began on Wednesday. But expect Gov. Paul LePage (R) to put up a fight.

The Democrat-controlled legislature is expected to take up the expansion, under President Obama’s health-care law, despite two vetoes from LePage. And both sides return to the fight with new ammunition.

Fortunately for Democrats, during the 2014 session nearly 25,000 Mainers are estimated to find themselves in the gap between being eligible for Medicaid and qualifying for tax breaks under Obamacare, the Associated Press reports. (Medicaid expansion would cover them.) But LePage comes armed with a new study — one commissioned by him — that finds an expansion would cost more than $800 million over the next decade. Here’s how WABI TV sums it up:

Democrats have said the expansion of the program, also know as MaineCare, would cover 70,000 people, would be paid for 100% by federal dollars for the first three years and would save Maine more than $600 million in the long run.

The Alexander Group study paints a far different picture. Gary Alexander, one of the authors of the study, says expanding Medicaid will cost the state more than $800 million in the first 10 years while enrollment in the program will jump from 318,000 to 584,000 people. Meaning MaineCare could soon account for 38.7% of the entire state budget. It’s a program that DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew says is already out of control and expanding it would be fiscally irresponsible.

Democrats also allege bias on account of Alexander’s controversial past as Pennsylvania’s welfare commissioner.

The contentious relationship between Democrats and LePage, a tea party favorite, won’t be limited to Medicaid, either. LePage already vetoed about a third of the bills passed last session. Democrats plan to push for a restoration of municipal revenue cuts, and lawmakers there will have to address a big budget shortfall, the Lewiston Sun Journal reports.

[T]opping the list is what appears to be a more than $100 million state budget shortfall and no proposal from Republican Gov. Paul LePage on how to fix it.

So far, LePage has been sticking to his position that he offered lawmakers a state budget that was balanced in 2013 and they rejected it, so he will let them fix any shortfall.

Niraj Chokshi reports for GovBeat, The Post's state and local policy blog.
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