Maine Democratic Leaders, Others Urge Passage of Comprehensive Health Care Bill
Video of today’s press conference here.
The accompanying press release:
Lives on the Line: Mainers Tell Personal Stories
Mainers urge passage of comprehensive bill managing health care costs for hospitals and people
AUGUSTA — Mainers on Thursday urged Gov. Paul LePage and the Legislature to accept federal health care dollars under a comprehensive health care bill proposed by Democrats, saying their lives depend on gaining access to critical care.
U.S. Navy veteran Tom Ptacek will lose his health care coverage in January if the state does not act. Ptacek, who has experienced homelessness in the past, said health care coverage is key to moving ahead.
“Not knowing whether your medical needs or possible future medical needs are covered weighs on you. It’s having that security that helps you get up and go to work every day and go on with your life,” he said.
The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, which has been overseeing a plan to complete the hospital repayment through the refinancing of the state’s liquor contract, is expected to take action on the bill today.
“The Maine Legislature now has the opportunity pass this comprehensive bill and change the lives of so many people for the better. Please do it now,” urged Sonja Sawyer, a breast cancer survivor from Bangor.
Patty Kidder of Sanford also spoke about the need for health care coverage under the Democratic proposal. She and her husband lost health care coverage when her husband lost his job at Spencer Press during the recession. Because of health issues, he needs seven prescription medicines, all of which need doctor review.
“We are overdue to see our family doctor because we can’t afford to pay for the office visit. It is scary to think about what could happen if my husband can’t refill his medication,” said Kidder.
On Wednesday, lawmakers on the Health and Human Services Committee, in a bipartisan vote of 10-4, strongly urged that language on accepting federal health care dollars be part of a bill to repay Maine’s hospitals. In March, Democrats announced a comprehensive plan that called for addressing both health care issues at the same time.
“Not only do we pay back our hospitals, but we also ensure that thousands of Mainers can see a doctor when they are sick,” said Speaker of the House Mark Eves of North Berwick. “By doing so, we reduce the charity care costs and bad debt that are cost drivers for our hospitals. To do one without the other, would leave the job half done.”
According to the Maine Hospital Association, both bad debt and charity care, was about $450 million last year, up $32 million from the year before.
Under the comprehensive Democratic plan, nearly 70,000 more Maine people would have access to health care, hospitals would be paid back $485 million in debt and they would also receive an additional $163 million a year in federal dollars for treating newly insured Maine residents.
“Our comprehensive proposal is morally and economically the right thing to do. It addresses the costs of health care for our hospitals and our people,” said Senate President Justin Alfond. “People’s lives are on the line. Now is the time to act.”
The federal government has agreed to cover 100 percent of the cost for covering thousands of Mainers for the next three years, and gradually lower its 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. The state is one of 10 that will see a drop in Medicaid spending from accepting the federal dollars.
MYTHS AND FACTS
MYTH: Democrats surprised Republicans by linking Medicaid expansion to the hospital payment.
FACT: This is the latest in a long list of excuses for Republicans to delay and deny health care to thousands of Maine people. Democrats announced this plan in March during a press conference and later told Republicans and the Governor they would put both in one bill in a meeting in April. This plan has been widely reported and editorialized on in major daily newspapers.
MYTH: Gov. LePage says Medicaid Expansion is welfare.
FACT: Medicaid is health care for low-income individuals, many of whom are working but cannot afford health insurance coverage or don’t have the option from their employer. Seventy percent of Medicaid enrollees are either children, seniors or individuals with disabilities. MaineCare payments go to hospitals and health care providers to provide services not directly to eligible individuals.
MYTH: Gov. LePage says Medicaid Expansion could cost Maine $100 million.
FACT: Estimates from the non-partisan Kaiser Foundation and the conservative Heritage Foundation show that Maine will save $690 million to cover nearly 70,000 Maine people over the course of a decade. Maine is one of 10 states that will see Medicaid expenditures go down over 10 years.
MYTH: Governor LePage needs time to negotiate a better deal with the federal government.
FACT: The federal government has offered Maine a bargain. It has already pledged to pay 100 percent of the costs of health care for three years. Over time, that share will decline until it reaches 90 percent in 2020 and future years. That compares to the average 57 percent of the costs the federal government pays states on average for people currently on Medicaid. Maine can opt-out at any time. In a recent letter to Governor LePage, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius offered to provide the LePage administration “flexibility under the law” to implement the program in Maine. The fact is, since 1965, the federal government has 100 percent compliance in meeting its commitment to states with respect to the match rate and other medicaid obligations. The record of the federal government is far superior to that of the states, including Maine, in terms of meeting its promises to both states and providers.
MYTH: Gov. LePage says Democrats won’t pay Maine’s hospital debt.
FACT: Democrats and Governor LePage agree that we must make the final payment on our state’s debt to hospitals. As we make a final payment on Maine’s hospital debt, Democrats believe we must also address the underlying problem that helped cause the debt. To do one without the other would leave the job half done. Under the comprehensive plan proposed by Democrats, hospitals would be paid $485 million in back debt rightfully owed to them and on top of that they would also receive an additional $163 million a year in federal dollars for treating newly insured Maine residents. This brings in more insured patients, increases patient volume and eliminates a major cost driver in the health care system.
MYTH: Maine’s hospital debt has nothing to do with Medicaid expansion.
FACT: Maine’s hospital debt is a symptom of our high health care costs. We can’t just treat the symptom; we have to treat the problem. We can lower those costs by accepting federal health care dollars to cover nearly 70,000 Maine people. By doing so we would significantly reduce hospital charity care cost for the uninsured. According to the Maine Hospital Association, both bad debt and charity care, was about $450 million last year, up $32 million from the year before. Hospitals pass these charity care costs to consumers, including the state and individuals and businesses with private insurance.
MYTH: Medicaid expansion would be a government handout for lazy able-bodied adults
FACT: The federal health care dollars would be used toward health care for those who earned up to 138 percent of the poverty rate. That includes individuals who are working in low-paying jobs with no health insurance, earning $15,856 or a family of three earning up to $26,951. According to the Anthem Blue Cross insurance chart on the state’s website, an individual policy with a $2,000 deductible for a 55-year-old would be about $6,500 per year. That policy features a $50 co-pay for a regular office visit.