Once Again, Lawmakers Push for Medicaid Expansion
State lawmakers are renewing their efforts to expand Medicaid, despite Governor LePage’s continued opposition. Two Republican senators – Roger Katz of Augusta and Tom Saviello of Wilton – have sponsored a bill to extend Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to low-income Mainers earning less than 133% of the federal poverty level. Currently, only poor children and their parents, pregnant mothers, the disabled, and a few other groups are eligible for health insurance through MaineCare.
In a radio address in late December, Governor LePage, who has already vetoed five attempts to enact Medicaid expansion legislation, vowed to continue to “veto it every time electioneering politicians try to bring it up.”
The LePage administration and conservative lawmakers have pointed to other states in making the argument that Medicaid expansion would be fiscally irresponsible. “We have seen Medicaid expansion happen in many other states. Many states are regretting it; they are seeing holes in their budgets right now where they are having to raise more money,” says House Republican Leader Ken Fredette of Newport. When Arkansas expanded Medicaid, administrators soon realized that anticipated costs were being far exceeded. In California, 1.4 million more people signed up for Medicaid than officials had predicted, leading to over $1 billion in unexpected costs.
“Maine has been down this road before, and we must learn from previous experience,” Governor LePage said in 2014. “Medicaid spending grew by $1 billion in a decade, hospital bills were not being paid by the state, budgets were broken and thousands of elderly and people with disabilities were forced to wait for critical services.” The Governor was referencing Maine’s decision to loosen MaineCare eligibility requirements back in 2002, which led to $750 million of debt to Maine’s hospitals and funding cuts to nursing homes and the disabled.
In 2014, the Alexander Group released a report predicting that expansion in Maine would lead to a 66.7% increase in the Medicaid population over ten years, adding more than 212,000 people to the rolls. The study projected that the ten-year total state costs of expansion would exceed $807 million.