AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) - Governor LePage is in another war of words with Democrats in the Legislature. But today Democrats said the fight has changed, because of new information from the federal government.
At the center of the debate, once again, is the plan to pay off the state's debt to hospitals. That plan has gained significant support, and the Legislature's Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee is working on final details of the plan. It would borrow about $185 million to pay the state's share of the hospital debt, then use income from a new wholesale liquor contract to pay it back.
Now Democratic leaders say they want to link paying the hospital debt to approving the state's expansion of Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act. Democrats say that Medicaid expansion would provide health insurance for about 70,000 Maine residents.
Governor LePage over the weekend was sharply critical of Senate President Justin Alfond and Speaker of the House Mark Eves for wanting to combine the two proposals. And Republican leaders say they also don't like it, and aren't likely to support it. Democrats say they intend to pay the hospitals but also want to ensure more Maine people get covered by insurance to reduce health care costs and the expense of charity care for hospitals.
On Tuesday, Democrats showed off letters from the federal DHHS they say show the federal government would pay the full cost of the Medicaid expansion for three years, and would include 10,500 so-called "childless adults" already in Maine's Medicaid program. Democrats call the DHHS letters a "game changer" in their favor. Republicans say the state would still see a lot of new costs.
Governor LePage's spokesperson says there are still many questions that need to be answered, and say the Governor will still insist the two issues be considered separately. The Governor's office also says Maine DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew will go to Washington on Thursday to meet with federal DHHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius for a discussion about Maine's Medicaid program and the expansion.