AP: Maine gov vetoes Medicaid expansion for 2nd time
By ALANNA DURKIN
AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine Gov. Paul LePage on Monday vetoed a bill to accept federal dollars to expand health care coverage to 70,000 more Mainers, saying he fears the state will ultimately bear the financial burden for the new enrollees.
The Democratic-controlled Legislature last week approved a retooled proposal to expand Medicaid coverage under the federal health care overhaul, cutting off the state’s participation in the program off after three years in an effort to make it more appealing to Republicans.
But the Republican governor told lawmakers Monday that Maine’s welfare system has already grown too fast and too large and he is concerned that the state would remain locked into the expanded services despite the sunset provision.
LePage said the state needs to negotiate with the federal government to ensure that it has the flexibility to ‘‘improve delivery and root out fraud and abuse.’’
‘‘Now is not now the time to push forward with this expansion,’’ he said in his letter to lawmakers.
The measure’s veto makes the expansion’s future in Maine uncertain. Votes in both chambers last week fell just short of the two-thirds majority that lawmakers will now need to get to override the veto.
Touting the bill as a way to boost the economy by expanding health care, Democratic Senate President Justin Alfond and House Speaker Mark Eves called on Republican lawmakers to join them to override the veto.
‘‘Governor LePage has made it clear that he will do whatever it takes to deny and delay health care to tens of thousands of Mainers, even if it means turning down jobs,’’ Eves said in a statement. ‘‘Much-needed health care and jobs are at stake. We urge Republicans to join us in overriding this senseless veto.’’
The vetoed bill would have repealed the expansion on Dec. 31, 2016, when the federal government begins to gradually lower its share of the cost from 100 percent to no less than 90 percent by 2020.
The federal health care overhaul allows states to expand Medicaid coverage to adults making up to 133 percent of the poverty level. The government says 145,000 non-elderly Maine residents are uninsured.
When Maine expanded health care coverage in 2000, the result was a massive debt for the state’s hospitals as the system grew too large for taxpayer’s to pay, LePage said.
‘‘The goal was to provide health care for those without insurance to government-sponsored care,’’ he said. ‘‘This was very well-meaning, tugging at the heart strings of people across the political spectrum. Unfortunately, it did not work.’’
The governor previously vetoed another version of the Medicaid expansion bill that tied the measure to repaying hospital debt.
The veto came as lawmakers began the final days of the 2013 session pushing through a slew of bills Monday, including measures to prohibit insurance companies from increasing rates based on where someone lives and a bill to block the government from collecting cellphone messages or conversations without a warrant.
A major question still remaining is whether LePage will accept or veto the $6.3 billion, two-year state budget that includes temporary tax increases.
As for the budget bill, the governor has 10 days to look over legislation approved Thursday night before he has to act or it goes into law without his signature, which means lawmakers could go home Wednesday with the budget issue still unanswered.
Assistant Majority Leader Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan said that lawmakers will return after the session is over to attempt to override the vetoes with a two-thirds vote in each chamber, if necessary.
Adrienne Bennett, spokeswoman for LePage, said the governor has expressed that he plans to take the time to look over the legislation.
But as lawmakers wait to see if they’ll return to the Capitol after the session ends, they did move forward some significant legislation Monday:
— INSURANCE RATES: The House and Senate gave initial approval to a bill that reverses a provision of a law enacted last session that allows insurance companies to determine health insurance rates based on where someone lives. Supporters say insurance rates for rural residents have skyrocketed since the law went into place, which has hurt small businesses. But opponents worry that it will eliminate the incentive that hospitals and providers have to be more efficient while raising rates for people living in cities.
— CELLPHONE PRIVACY: The House and Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of a bill that prohibits a government entity from collecting cellphone messages or conversations with a warrant, unless it’s an emergency or the owner has given their consent. The bill faces further votes in the House and Senate.
— CAREER AND TECHNICAL EDUCATION: The Senate gave initial approval to a bill that will create a program allowing students pursuing a career and technical education to get some of their college credits while they’re still in high school. Starting in their junior year, students could earn credits that count toward both their high school diploma and a secondary education degree, which supporters say will save them both time and money.