AUGUSTA — Several Republican lawmakers are expected to announce their concerns Tuesday about expanding Medicaid, a first step toward what could become a formal campaign to oppose the question voters will face on the Nov. 7 ballot.

Rick Bennett of Oxford, a former Maine Senate president and former chairman of the Maine Republican Party, will join three sitting Republican lawmakers at an 11 a.m. State House news conference to make an announcement of “importance to Maine taxpayers, senior citizens and families,” said Brent Littlefield, a Washington-D.C.-based political consultant who also advises Gov. Paul LePage and Maine’s 2nd District U.S. Rep Bruce Poliquin.

The news conference is not meant to be a kickoff event for a campaign opposing Question 2, which would expand Medicaid in Maine under the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, Littlefield said.

“It’s going to be much more specific than that,” he said. But he noted that a campaign may follow.

Joining Bennett at the news conference will be Reps. Heather Sirocki, R-Scarborough; Paula Sutton, R-Warren; and Stephanie Hawke, R-Boothbay Harbor.

Maine Equal Justice Partners, a progressive advocacy group for low-income people, gathered more than 67,000 signatures of registered Maine voters to put the Medicaid expansion question on the Nov. 7 ballot. The proposal would expand Medicaid coverage to adults under 65 who earn below $16,000 for a single person and $22,000 for a family of two.

Currently, 19- and 20-year-olds, individuals with disabilities, the elderly and certain low-income parents qualify for Medicaid, which operates as MaineCare.

David Farmer, a spokesman for the expansion campaign, has said it will “reduce the number of people without health insurance, it will create jobs.”

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called Maine’s uninsured rate of 8.8 percent in 2015 an all-time low, but Maine Hospital Association President Steven Michaud has said state eligibility rules cut MaineCare enrollment by 75,000 people in recent years, according to The Associated Press.

Michaud said that move shifted costs to Maine hospitals, which are providing about $250 million a year in charity care while Medicaid payments to hospitals are decreasing.

Expanding Medicaid is estimated to cost Maine $54 million each year once it is fully implemented, according to the ballot question’s fiscal note.

That figure includes $27 million in estimated savings and the cost of 103 new state positions to administer the expansion. The federal government would chip in $525 million each year, and lawmakers would have to appropriate the $54 million if the ballot question passes.

But Republican opponents to the expansion, including Gov. Paul LePage, have said the expansion, even with the matching federal funds, would decimate the state budget and cause the Legislature to increase state tax rates to cover the shortfalls.

LePage has repeatedly told radio talk show hosts the expansion would set the state’s fiscal house in disarray for decades to come. Also in question is whether the Affordable Care Act will remain in place under President Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress, where both lawmakers and Trump have promised to repeal and replace the landmark law, which is considered a key accomplishment of former President Obama.

The ACA provides federally matching Medicaid funds for states that expand the health insurance program for the nation’s poorest citizens, and while the repeal effort has yet to succeed, the issue remains a top concern for lawmakers in Washington. Under the ACA, states that expand Medicaid would see a gradual tapering of the federal reimbursement rate to a low of 90 percent of a state’s expansion costs in 2020.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

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