AUGUSTA — The Maine House on Thursday morning finally passed a measure to make a final payment on Maine’s hospital debt and refinance the state’s liquor contract. The payment comes one day after the House passed a bipartisan bill to accept federal health care dollars to cover nearly 70,000 Maine people.

 “As we make this final payment to make good on past debt to hospitals, we have also moved ahead with a bill that will reduce hospital debt and charity care in the future,” said Speaker of the House Mark Eves, D-North Berwick. “We must address both sides of this coin. To do one without the other, leaves the job half done.”

 Accepting federal dollars would help contain future health care costs by reducing hospital charity care and bad debt, which totaled $450 million last year,according to the Maine Hospital Association.

 The measure passed today makes the final payment to Maine hospitals totalling $490 million in combined state and federal dollars. The state payment of $183.5 million will trigger a federal match completing the final payment to Maine’s hospitals.

 “Maine has been steadily and increasingly paying down hospital debt for the past decade,” said Rep. Peggy Rotundo, the House chair and veteran member of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee. “This final payment closes a chapter in Maine history and allows us to move forward with a better system to control costs.”

 Over the last decade, Maine hospitals have been paid $3.7 billion in combined state and federal dollars to repay past debt and to maintain services.

 Governor John Baldacci inherited 11 years of unpaid hospital debts on his first day in office.  In 2009, Democrats changed the way Maine pays its hospitals to a “pay as you go system” to prevent the cycle of debt.  In 2010, the Democratic system went into effect and has been administered by the Republican Administration.

 During the floor debate, Rep. Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, the assistant majority leader, spoke to the benefit to his local hospital and called on Governor LePage to release $104 million in bonds he’s been withholding until the passage of the hospital payment.  

 “This is a historic moment,” said McCabe. “Now we urge the Governor to finally release the bonds already passed by voters.”

 The bill, LD 1555, “An Act To Strengthen Maine’s Hospitals and To Provide for a New Spirits Contract,” will now be sent to the Senate for a final vote before heading to the Governor for signature.

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