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Maine Senate Sends Welfare Expansion Bill to LePage

welfare

AUGUSTA – On Thursday night, the Maine Senate voted 23-12 to pass a bill that would expand Maine’s Medicaid program under the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The bill will now head to Gov. Paul LePage.

“This is a disaster in the making,” said Sen. Jim Hamper (R-Oxford), the ranking Republican on the Health and Human Services Committee. “On two occasions in the past decade, Maine has expanded Medicaid beyond its ability to pay. Now we are about to do it again.”

Senate Minority Leader Michael Thibodeau said Maine should not be expanding Medicaid, a welfare program in conception, to cover able-bodied childless adults at a time when more than 3,000 Maine residents with disabilities have been languishing on waiting lists.

“The system was designed for these individuals. But they won’t be able to access it because we are expanding the system for able-bodied people who don’t need it,” said Thibodeau.

[RELATED: Medicaid expansion means millions for House Speaker's boss...]

Spending on Medicaid as a percentage of state General Fund spending has doubled over the past 15 years, increasing from 13 percent to more than 25 percent, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

While Democrats have consistently touted a Kaiser Family Foundation study predicting a net financial gain for Maine under expansion, Republicans have pointed to more recent DHHS estimates that expansion will impose significant long-term costs on Maine.

According to the latest numbers from DHHS, expansion would cost Maine taxpayers $70 million in FY 2016-17, $102 million in FY 2018-19, $150 million in FY 2020-21, and $75 million each year thereafter. The total cost for the first 7 years of funding 10 percent of the expanded welfare program will be roughly $400 million.

Even during the first three years – the so-called “free” period – the state will have to hire 93 new employees, complete with generous defined benefits packages, at a cost to taxpayers of $7 million per biennium.

Despite the obvious cost of placing an additional 70,000 Mainers on the welfare rolls, Senate Democrats remain convinced that doing so will save the state $690 million over the next decade.

“This bill not only addresses the challenges for individuals, it addresses the fiscal challenges that face our state,” said Senate Majority Leader Seth Goodall (D-Sagadahoc). “Is it perfect for each side of the aisle? No. Is it a compromise in the best interest of the state? I would argue yes.”

S.E. Robinson
Maine Wire Reporter
serobinson@themainewire.com

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