AUGUSTA – The Maine Senate on Friday failed to override Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a bill that would have expanded Medicaid coverage to more than 60,000 low-income Mainers.
The 22-13 vote fell two votes shy of the two-thirds majority needed to overturn to a veto. The bill is now effectively dead.
Even though Senate Democrats knew what the outcome of the vote would be, many spoke passionately Friday to urge their colleagues to support expansion.
Sen. Richard Woodbury of Yarmouth, the chamber’s lone independent, said failure to override would be the “single-most missed opportunity of the 126th Legislature.”
Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, said he thinks it’s embarrassing for lawmakers to deny health care to constituents when most have government-sponsored health care themselves.
“If it’s OK for me, why isn’t it OK for them? They work just as hard as I do,” he said.
Sen. Geoff Gratwick, D-Bangor, who also is a practicing physician, urged lawmakers to listen to their heads and their hearts.
Senate Minority Leader Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport, said his opposition was not partisan and he respected the passion of his colleagues, but could not support the bill because of its potential burden on an already overburdened system.
Added Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, “I don’t have money to pay for other people’s health insurance.”
The bill, in addition to expanding Medicaid, which operates as MaineCare, would have established a managed care system for all 320,000 beneficiaries in an effort to control costs.
It was considered a compromise because two Republicans – Sens. Roger Katz and Thomas Saviello – brought the measure forward.
But Katz and Saviello failed to generate any support among their fellow Republicans, in particular LePage.
The governor, as expected, vetoed the bill on Wednesday. On Friday, he commended the Senate for sustaining his veto.
“I am pleased that the Senate chose fiscal responsibility instead of spending millions of Maine’s taxpayer dollars to expand welfare to able-bodied adults who have other options for virtually free health care,” he said in a statement.
“I commend the Senators who had the courage to stand firm against liberal politicians and do what is right for the hard-working Mainers who would have had to foot the bill for this massive expansion.”
Medicaid expansion was a key component of the Affordable Care Act, the federal law designed to increase health care coverage by mandating that most Americans purchase health insurance.
But states have authority on whether to expand eligibility.
So far, 25 states and the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid. Twenty-one others, including Maine, have not. Four others are considering expansion.
The federal government has promised to cover 100 percent of the expansion population between 2014 and 2016.
Supporters of the law say Maine is losing $1 million a day in federal money by rejecting the law.
The reimbursement level is scheduled to be gradually reduced to 90 percent by 2022.
LePage and others have said they don’t trust the federal government to make good on the promise of payment.
The debate to expand Medicaid has dominated much of the 126th Legislature’s second session and that debate is likely to spill over into the election season once the session adjourns later this month.
Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or: