AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a Medicaid-expansion bill late Monday, taking an expected step that’s sure to increase tension with Maine’s legislative session due to end this week.
In a prepared statement, House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, called the veto “senseless,” saying LePage “made it clear that he will do whatever it takes to deny and delay health care to tens of thousands of Mainers.”
The veto was first announced Monday evening on Twitter by the Maine Senate Republicans, whose spokesman, Jim Cyr, provided the veto letter to the Portland Press Herald. LePage’s spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, couldn’t be reached for comment late Monday.
The bill, L.D. 1066, would extend health insurance to more than 60,000 low-income Mainers under MaineCare, the state’s version of Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for the poor.
The bill was enacted by the Legislature last week after Assistant Senate Minority Leader Roger Katz, R-Augusta, authored an amendment that passed 23-12 in the Senate and 97-51 in the House.
Both votes were bipartisan, but they fell short of the two-thirds majority necessary in both chambers to override a veto, making the bill a long shot for passage now.
In his letter to legislators, LePage said past expansions have left the state with a bloated program plagued with cost overruns.
“Now is not the time to push forward on expansion. Maine must negotiate with Washington to ensure that our citizens and taxpayers are protected,” LePage wrote in his veto message. “Quite simply, Maine can do better.”
In May, LePage vetoed a plan that would have paid Maine’s share of debt to its hospitals while expanding Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act because he objected to expansion. Last week, he signed a separate bill that paid the hospitals.
The governor has said he would consider Medicaid expansion alone, but he wants more time to negotiate a deal with the federal government.
LePage has asked the federal government to fund 100 percent of the cost of expansion for 10 years, which federal officials said wouldn’t be possible under the law.
The federal government pays 62 percent to cover about 10,500 Maine adults without children, and would likely increase reimbursement to 100 percent from 2014 to 2016 before gradually dropping to 90 percent after that, according to a letter to the LePage administration in May from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
“I am pleased and not surprised to learn that (LePage) has vetoed this ill-conceived bill,” Senate Minority Leader Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport, said in a prepared statement Monday night. “Expanding Medicaid beyond our ability to pay is the primary reason we find ourselves covering budget shortfalls over and over again.”
But Democrats say the deal is already good: A Kaiser Family Foundation estimate says Maine would save $690 million by participating in expansion. In his statement, Eves cited claims from the liberal Maine Center for Economic Policy that expansion would create 4,500 jobs in Maine.
A number of Republican governors, including New Jersey’s Chris Christie and Arizona’s Jan Brewer, are advocates of expansion under the federal law. As of Friday, 26 states had agreed to participate in Medicaid expansion, according to The Advisory Board Co., a global consulting firm.
Late Monday, Democrats called for an override.
“Now it’s time for Republican lawmakers to make their choice,” Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, said in a prepared statement. “Follow the (g)overnor and deny health care or do what’s morally and economically right for the people of Maine.”
Michael Shepherd can be reached at 370-7652 or at: