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  • Maine Senate passes GOP-led Medicaid expansion bill

    The Maine Senate on Tuesday gave initial approval to a Republican-sponsored bill to accept federal dollars to expand access affordable health care for low-income Mainers.

    The bill was approved 18-17, with three Republicans joining all 15 Democrats in supporting the bill. Those Republicans were Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton; Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta; and Sen. David Woodsome, R-North Waterboro.

    LD 633, sponsored by Sen. Saviello, would draw down major increases in federal funding to provide health insurance to nearly 80,000 Mainers. The bill would lead to influx of more than $2 billion in federal funding over the next five years, and is estimated to create 3,000 jobs.

    The bill utilizes Medicaid to provide coverage to the poorest Mainers, and private health insurance to expand access to affordable health care for other low-income residents. It requires eligible enrollees to contribute to the cost of their care, and helps unemployed Mainers find jobs. If the federal government reneges on its pledge to cover the vast majority of the cost, the bill sunsets.

    “Sen. Saviello has done his homework,” said Sen. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, the lead Senate Democrat on the Health and Human Services Committee. “This bill is different than any we’ve seen. Its various pieces are drawn from the best examples of success in other states. By taking the best there is to offer, this bill provides a responsible path forward for health care for the entire state.”

    All newly enrolled Mainers would be required to contribute to the cost of their health coverage. Those covered by Medicaid would have to pay copayments up to the level allowed by the federal government, while those enrolled through the marketplace would be required to pay up to 5 percent of their incomes for premiums, copayments and deductibles. The bill also includes provisions to connect newly covered unemployed Mainers to job referrals through the Department of Labor.

    If enacted, the bill would see Maine join 31 other states that have accepted available federal health care funds to support health care. Notably, other states have seen tremendous savings to their correctional systems by providing coverage for addiction and mental health treatment. LD 633 has the endorsement of the Maine Police Chiefs and Maine Sheriffs associations.

    “This money will provide budget relief to our communities, where criminal justice and correctional systems have become de facto drug treatment and mental health care centers for the uninsured,” said Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham. “States like Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois and Washington are all seeing millions of dollars in savings to their criminal justice and corrections system. Like them, Maine can better provide for our criminal justice and health care systems if we pass this bill.”

    The bill faces additional votes in the House and Senate.