By Kevin Miller
The Maine House voted to approve an expansion of Medicaid on Wednesday, but still fell well short of the margin needed to overcome an inevitable veto from Gov. Paul LePage.
The 85-64 vote was largely along party lines and came one day after the Republican-controlled Senate narrowly endorsed using federal funds to purchase coverage for more low-income Mainers. The measure, however, appears headed for a sixth-straight defeat by LePage, who has argued expansion would cost the state more money down the line.
The bill -- sponsored by two moderate Republican senators, Tom Saviello of Wilton and Roger Katz of Augusta -- would use the Affordable Care Act's marketplace to expand Medicaid but require beneficiaries to pay small premiums for their insurance. Such a "private option" model has been adopted in several states where Republicans and Democrats share control of the government.
Expanding Medicaid would provide coverage to more than 70,000 Mainers who currently earn between 100 percent and 138 percent of the federal poverty level. The federal government would pay 100 percent of the expansion costs through 2016, with the federal share declining to 90 percent by 2020. Thirty-one other states have expanded Medicaid as part of the health care law.
The two sides cited their own statistics and estimates about whether expansion will save or cost Maine money in the long run.
The outcome in the Democratic-controlled House was known long before Wednesday's vote. In fact, lawmakers appeared at times to be going through the motions as they read the same exact speeches -- and asked the same exact questions -- as their Senate colleagues had just one day earlier.
But there were also personal, emotional pleas on the issue.
Rep. Andrew McLean, D-Gorham, recalled how his mother incurred more than $1 million in medical bills for the multiple surgeries, chemotherapy and other treatments for her cancer diagnosis. McLean said his mother fortunately had good insurance, but questioned how someone without coverage -- who was not able to receive preventive care and screenings -- could afford such bills?
"So many in this state don't have access to care and they suffer for it," McLean said.
Cancer survivor Rep. Denise Harlow, D-Portland, recalled meeting a woman with Stage 4 ovarian cancer who didn't have insurance while they were both hospitalized.
"I remember laying in bed that day and thinking, 'Why me?' and not 'Why did I have cancer?' but 'Why me? Why do I have insurance when this other person doesn't'" Harlow said. "My life is no more valuable than the young woman down the hall."
Democrats also cited the surge in heroin and opiate addictions as another reason to expand Medicaid, saying it would help more people receive drug treatment. But Rep. Richard Pickett, a Dixfield Republican and former law enforcement officer, pointed out that neighboring New Hampshire expanded Medicaid and is struggling with an even worse opiate epidemic than in Maine.
Republicans were claiming victory Wednesday night by the fact that the bill failed to pass by veto-proof margins.
"No matter how they try to dress it up, Medicaid expansion would be a fiscal disaster for Maine," Rep. Deb Sanderson, R-Chelsea, said in a statement. "We don't need to look any farther than states like Vermont, Illinois, New Mexico and Kentucky who expanded Medicaid and saw enrollment soar past their projections, blowing massive holes in their budgets."
(c)2016 the Portland Press Herald