State budget surplus means medicaid expansion in Maine can happen now

 

By Ramona du Houx

The State of Maine projects the fiscal year to finish with a budget surplus of about $128 million. There is no fiscal reason why Gov. Paul LePage and the Legislature can't implement Medicaid expansion. Voters approved the measure at the ballot in November of 2017.

“People have waited for health care for too long,” said Robyn Merrill, co-chair of Mainers for Health Care and the executive director of Maine Equal Justice Partners. “Voters sent a strong message: They want more people to have access to quality affordable health care. The budget surplus is an opportunity to make sure that more than 70,000 Mainers can get the health care that they need.”

The Medicaid expansion law requires Maine to begin providing health care to eligible people in July of 2018 and resources are available to start that implementation. 

Photo: Protesting their rights to healthcare because they voted for the medicaid expansion citizens stood in the cold while LePage gave his state of the state address in the capitol.

The state’s fiscal office and a recent independent analysis determined that the state will need approximately $30 million to fund coverage for SFY 2019, funding in the Medicaid account could cover costs until June of 2019 and the revenue surplus could easily cover costs for the rest of the biennium. It is important to remember that every dollar spent by Maine will be matched by nine federal dollars for new enrollees.

Instead of funding the Medicaid expansion law voters approved, LePage has released a plan that would use roughly two-thirds of the surplus revenue to give another round of tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy, who will already reap more than $712 million in benefits next year from changes to the federal tax law, according to the Maine Center for Economic Policy.

While LePage has described the tax scheme as conforming with the new federal tax law, his plan would double down on income inequality in Maine by spending more on tax breaks for the wealthy instead of funding voter-approved health care.

“I don’t understand why anyone would give more tax breaks to the wealthy when my daughter is waiting for health care she desperately needs but can’t afford on her low wages,” said Pam Fisher of Sabattus, who is a member of the Mainers for Health Care leadership team. “The voters want this for her and for 70,000 other people in Maine. It’s the law now. There’s more than enough money to fund the state’s portion yet the governor is trying to give that money away as tax breaks to the wealthy few and powerful corporations.”  

“Maine voters were clear. Health care is their priority,” said Merrill. “The Legislature has the opportunity to invest in Maine people, support thousands of new jobs and strengthen rural hospitals. There’s no excuse to delay action.”