Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud released a 10-point plan Monday for improving health care in Maine, and in the process took several swipes at his Republican opponent in the gubernatorial election, Gov. Paul LePage.

A key component of Michaud’s health care plan involves “taking full advantage of the Affordable Care Act,” perhaps better known as Obamacare, by expanding MaineCare – the state’s version of Medicaid.

Republicans have said that expanding MaineCare in 2002 is what led the state to incur a massive debt to hospitals.

LePage often reminds voters about his administration’s repayment of the $484 million debt to hospitals, but Michaud called that “a misnomer” during a news conference at the Portland Public Library.

The debt was paid off using bond money, which is being repaid with revenue from a renegotiated contract to sell liquor in the state.

“Yes, the hospitals got paid back, but (LePage) borrowed money from Wall Street to pay the hospitals back and he’s paying interest. That’s fiscally irresponsible,” Michaud said. “This governor has been the most fiscally irresponsible governor that I have seen in a long time.”

Michaud also said it was “completely wrong” to contend that the MaineCare expansion in 2002 led to the hospital debt.

Two years before the MaineCare expansion, Maine owed hospitals $10.4 million. The debt increased to $254.7 million in 2005 because the state never changed its hospital payment method to account for the expansion. It’s when the hospitals began billing for additional Medicaid services that the significant debt began to accrue.

After the debt became a political issue in 2010, the Legislature, then controlled by Democrats, altered the payment system. That change, plus additional funding the Legislature approved after Republicans gained the majority, effectively ended the debt accrual.

In 2013, after weeks of political wrangling, Democrats and Republicans agreed to pay the outstanding hospital debt with a revenue bond.

Michaud said expanding MaineCare to an additional 70,000 people, which LePage has vetoed five times, would save the state more than $600 million over the next decade and bring in an additional $3 billion in federal funds, while adding 3,000 jobs.

Michaud also hit LePage for using the Fund for Healthy Maine as “a piggy bank to help balance the budget.” The fund is capitalized with money from a national tobacco settlement. LePage proposed eliminating the program in 2012, and this year wanted to use the money to increase funding for nursing homes.

LePage campaign spokesman Alex Willette brushed off Michaud’s claim that the governor is fiscally irresponsible.

“The reality is fiscal irresponsibility is something Congressman Michaud knows a lot about,” said Willette, repeating the claim that the 2002 expansion led to the hospital debt. “When the truth hurts, you try to deflect.”

Rick Bennett, chairman of the Maine Republican Party, who served with Michaud in the state Senate when the MaineCare expansion passed, said in a written statement that he voted against it because he was concerned about the long-term costs.

“It turns out those concerns were well-founded since Mike Michaud’s Medicaid expansion created the hospital debt that Gov. LePage just paid off,” Bennett said. “Congressman Michaud apparently has not learned from his mistake, and his vow to expand welfare again on Day One in office ignores the calamitous consequences of that policy and the immense work it took to undo its damage.”

LePage has not rolled out a health plan, but Willette said there was little contained in Michaud’s plan that hasn’t already been proposed by the Democratic Party.

Crystal Canney, spokeswoman for independent Eliot Cutler, said Maine needs a health care system but doesn’t have one. She said Michaud’s plan “rings hollow” since he has taken campaign contributions from corporations whose products are unhealthy.

“Paul LePage’s prescription for health care has been a disaster and Michaud is the wrong guy to cure the system,” Canney said. “This is the same guy who took more than $100,000 from the big sugar lobby, the tobacco lobby and Monsanto. This is another evolution in a long line of evolutions.”

Michaud described his 10-point plan as “aggressive,” placing a focus on “good health, not just good health care.” When asked about the costs, he said it would save the state money.

Other components include auditing the Department of Health and Human Services, investing in technology, including broadband, which would allow for so-called telehealth, or health consultations via the Internet.

The plan also includes paying for the quality of care, rather than the volume of care; focusing on preventive and oral health; investing in substance abuse programs; and studying whether allowing small businesses to buy into the state employee health plan would save money and preserve quality for both groups.

It would also look to make it easier for seniors to age in place. Maine has the oldest population per capita in the U.S. and Michaud said Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves’ KeepME Home plan could be a model for the rest of the country.

KeepME Home has three elements: $65 million to develop 1,000 highly energy-efficient apartments for seniors in 40 locations; increasing property tax credits for seniors; and increasing Medicaid reimbursements to providers of in-home and personal care.

“We can make Maine the best place in the country to age well,” Michaud said.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: randybillings

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