Republicans and Democrats Begin Sparring Over Paying Hospitals – Expanding Medicaid Coverage 

House Speaker Mark Eves says a Democratic proposal to expand Medicaid while paying off hospital debt is a deal that Governor LePage can’t refuse. LePage, meanwhile, is accusing Democrats of playing politics. The stage is set for a showdown. Thursday, Democrats hosted a press conference with folks who are among the 70,000 Mainers who would receive health insurance under their plan to expand Medicaid in Maine.Among them, U.S. Navy veteran Tom Ptacek who says he’ll lose his health care coverage in January if Republicans and the governor don’t agree to expand Medicaid. “Not knowing whether your medical needs or possible future medical needs are covered weighs on you,” Ptacek told reporters. “It’s having that security that helps you get up and go to work every day and go on with your life.” The catch is they’ve tied Medicaid expansion to the repayment of $484 million in hospital debt the state has accrued since 2009. Paying that debt has been a major priority of Governor LePage since he was campaigning in 2010.LePage wants to use money from a renegotiation of Maine’s liquor sales contract to pay the state’s share of the hospital debt, $186 million. The remaining $298 million would be matched by federal money.”In one fell swoop we can address both of these issues. Pay back debt and reduce charity care. It’s a win-win for everyone,” said Maine Speaker of the House Mark Eves.According to the Maine Hospital Association, bad debt and charity care in hospitals totaled $450 million last year alone. Democrats say combining these bills and giving health insurance to 70,000 Mainers, paid for 100% by the federal government for the first three years, takes a bite out of those costs.Republicans say withholding hospital repayment is holding up job growth.”Let me be clear. Republicans will not support a bill that combines Medicaid expansion with paying our hospitals,” said House Republican Leader Ken Fredette. Republicans say they haven’t ruled out Medicaid expansion on its own, but they want to create a bipartisan commission to study the long-term impacts it will have on Maine.The federal government pays for three years, but what happens after that when the state is on the hook for 10% of the costs?”This is not free. This expansion is going to cost Maine, when we reach year five, over $102 million above what we are currently paying for services right now,” said Chelsea Republican Deb Sanderson, a member of the Health and Human Services Committee.Sanderson says they’ve been unable to get a definitive answer on how much Maine’s share of the Medicaid expansion would be after the third year when the federal government stops paying 100%. Sanderson told reporters that even with 100% of the costs paid for, it will still cost Maine $7 million over the next two years in administrative costs.Democrats have refuted those numbers, citing a study done by the non-partisan Kaiser Foundation. According to that study, Maine would actually save $690 million to cover roughly 70,000 Mainers over the next 10 years.With Democrats in control of the legislature, and Governor LePage almost sure to veto any bill that links the two, Democrats stopped short of saying just how firm their stance is. But Eves reiterated that paying the hospitals is not only a priority of the LePage administration, but also the Democrats. “We said we are going to pay the hospitals that is what we are doing,” Eves said. “We are following through on that. As we do that again, controlling costs, if we don’t do that we’re going to be back in the same situation in the future.”(The Associated Press Contributed To This Report)