Maine Senate Passes Historic Medicare Expansion, Hospital Repayment Bill LD 1546 Along Party Lines
Yesterday in a 20-15 vote, the Senate passed an historic measure to repay Maine’s hospital debt and accept federal funds to expand healthcare coverage for nearly 70,000 Mainers.
As passed, the bill (LD 1546) also makes the final payment to Maine hospitals, totaling $485 million in state and federal dollars. Maine hospitals will also receive an additional $163 million a year in federal dollars for treating newly insured Maine residents if Maine accepts the federal health care dollars.
Nearly 70,000 Maine people can receive healthcare coverage as soon as Maine accepts the federal government’s offer. The federal government has agreed to pay 100% of the cost for covering all newly eligible people for the first three years and then gradually lowering 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 when 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. Nearly 70 percent of Maine people support accepting federal health care dollars to increase access to health care, according to the nonpartisan Maine People’s Resource Center.
According to the Maine Hospital Association, both bad debt and charity care cost $450 million last year, an increase of $32 million from the previous year. Insuring nearly 70,000 Mainers will reduce hospital charity care and bad debt costs. The Maine Hospital Association has stated its support for paying back the hospitals and accepting federal health care dollars. 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 Monday’s debate, many Senators shared personal stories of people’s lives that will be impacted if the state accepts the federal government’s offer.
- “The time for delaying and denying healthcare to thousands of Maine people has passed. The time for action is now,” said Senator Margaret Craven of Lewiston. “Too many Mainers are one illness or accident away from financial ruin. It doesn’t have to be that way.”
- “Passing this bill is fiscally responsible, medically responsible, and morally responsible,” said Senator John Cleveland of Auburn. “The legislature can make that decision. We have it in our power to pay our debt to the hospitals and provide healthcare to the poorest in our communities.”
- Assistant Majority Leader Troy Jackson of Allagash spoke about two neighbors in his hometown who had health problems similar to his own. “Of the three of us, I was the only one with health insurance, I could afford to get the care I need, and I’m the only one who is alive. I can’t help thinking that’s the reason: I had health insurance. We should be throwing people like them a line, not pulling up the ladder behind us.”
Senator Colleen Lachowicz of Waterville said, “People’s lives are on the line.”
Senator Emily Cain of Orono reminded the body that, “Fundraisers are not health care. People are not widgets. We must accept this offer.”
“To be absolutely clear, medical insurance is not welfare. Medical insurance keeps people healthy. The patients who come to see me with insurance do much better than those without,” said Senator Geoff Gratwick of Bangor, who is also a practicing physician. “From my perspective as a physician, voting against this bill is a vote to cripple Maine, both literally and figuratively. Maine hospitals and Maine people both win with this bill. Maine’s hospital debt is a symptom of our high healthcare costs. Not only do we have to pay back our hospitals, but we have to address how we got here. By ensuring that thousands of Mainers can see a doctor when they are sick, we will keep the healthy at work. We will reduce the charity care costs and the debt our hospitals are accruing. To pay the hospitals without reducing their costs moving forward would leave the job half done.”
- “We are addressing the costs of health care for Maine people and hospitals,” said Senate Majority Leader Seth Goodall of Richmond. “What’s more, we’re doing it all in one fell swoop. That’s efficient. That’s good government. That’s what we were sent here to do.”
The bill, LD 1546, “An Act To Strengthen Maine’s Hospitals, Increase Access to Health Care and Provide for a New Spirits Contract,” faces additional votes in the House and Senate.