Heated Debate Over Hospital Repayment-Medicaid Expansion Continues 

The fight continues in Augusta over whether or not hospital repayment should be linked to Medicaid expansion in Maine.Letters released Tuesday from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to Governor LePage confirm that Medicaid expansion will be fully funded by the federal government, at least for the first three years. “These two letters are further confirmation of what Democrats have been saying all along,” said House Speaker Mark Eves in a statement released by his office Tuesday. “They put to rest any concerns that Maine would have to fund an increase in health care for this group of people under the Affordable Care Act. It really should be a game changer for the Governor.” Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius also confirmed the federal government would continue to work with state to be “flexible” in how the program is implemented at the state level. But Republicans are concerned about what might happen if the federal government fails to meet its end of the deal. “Once you get people on government programs it’s tough to get them off,” said Republican Senator Mike Thibodeau.Democrats told LePage last week they won’t pass his plan to repay $484 million in back Medicaid debt owed to Maine hospitals, until he agrees to expand Medicaid in Maine. At an afternoon press conference, Senate President Justin Alfond twice dodged the question of whether Democrats would pass the LePage hospital repayment plan if Medicaid expansion is not a part of it. “All options are on the table,” is all Alfond would say on the subject.Republicans blasted the Democrats for stalling a repayment plan they say was all but a done deal. GOP leaders accused Democrats of preventing a $700 million shot in the arm for a lagging state economy that could sorely use it. “We understand there’s a conversation to be had about Medicaid expansion. Republicans are engaged and want to have that conversation and so does the governor,” said House Republican Leader Ken Fredette. “But there is no nexus between Medicaid expansion and paying the hospitals. That’s why we need to get on board and do the right thing now and that’s to pay the hospitals.”Democrats say paying the hospitals without expanding Medicaid at no charge to the state would only be doing half the job. “By accepting these federal dollars we’ll really do something substantial to make sure these costs are not shifted,” Eves told reporters. “We really feel like now is the time. The economic argument is solid. It’s going to inject $250 million into the Maine healthcare economy.”