AUGUSTA— The Maine House on Wednesday, in a bipartisan vote of 97 to 51, finally passed a measure to accept federal health care funds to expand healthcare coverage to nearly 70,000 low-income and working Mainers.

 Six Republicans joined Democrats to pass the bill. Two Democratic members were absent.  

 “Today the Maine House put the health care of Maine people before party politics,” said Speaker of the House Mark Eves, D-North Berwick. “We worked together to find a compromise that will no doubt change the lives of Maine people; Maine people who are working and can’t afford health care, people who are choosing between paying for their medicine and putting food on the table.”

 Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government has agreed to pay 100 percent of the cost for covering all newly eligible people for the first three years, and then gradually lowers payment to no less than 90 percent of the cost by 2020. Maine is projected to save $690 million in the next 10 years if it accepts the federal dollars, according to the nonpartisan Kaiser Foundation and the conservative Heritage Foundation. Maine is also one of 10 states that will see Medicaid expenditures go down over the next 10 years.

 According to a recent Rand Corp. study, states that fail to accept the federal funds to expand health care will lose $8.4 billion in federal funding and will spend an additional $1 billion on charity care costs.

 The bill, LD 1066, “An Act to Increase Access to Health Coverage and Qualify Maine for Federal Funding,” was amended to ensure savings are set aside, increases mandatory copays, and also sunsets the acceptance of federal dollars after three years on December 31, 2016.

 “We were able to come together with Republicans to get a good deal for Maine,” said Rep. Linda Sanborn, the bill sponsor and a retired family doctor from Gorham. “We can’t pass up this deal. If we don’t accept this money, Maine people will lose health care, while other states accept these dollars. By accepting these federal funds we will make sure more people can get the care they need, we will create jobs, and we will save money for the state” 

 According to the Maine Center for Economic Policy, accepting federal dollars would inject an additional $250 million of federal funding into Maine’s economy and create more than 3,100 jobs with more than 1,700 jobs in the healthcare industry alone.

 During the debate, opponents of accepting federal health care funds drew a new line in the sand, proposing amendments to the bill requiring the state to pay nearly $75 million in new funds to increase non-medical services to people with disabilities who are currently on Maine’s Medicaid program, MaineCare.  

 “The unmet needs of people on the waitlists must be addressed. We begin to address them in the budget we will vote on in the coming days,” said Rep. Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan, the Assistant House Majority Leader. “Yet these are separate issues and we should not allow the needs of one group to be used as an excuse not to help another group of Maine people.”

 Nearly 70 percent of Maine people support accepting federal health care dollars to increase access to health care, according to the nonpartisan Critical Insights polling firm.

 The bill faces additional votes in the Senate before reaching the Governor’s desk.

Did you like this? Share it: