Change of Heart: Democrats Finally Cave to Mounting Pressure on Hospital Repayment



After weeks of public pressure, Democratic leaders on Monday had a change of heart: They now support repaying Maine’s $484 million hospital debt and doing so with revenues from a renegotiated liquor contract.

“Democrats have always been focused on repaying the state’s debt to the hospitals,” Senate President Justin Alfond (D-Portland) said during a morning press conference. “Today, we commit to a swift upfront and immediate payment in full to put to rest our debt obligation.”

Prior to Monday’s press conference, which came just minutes before public hearings on Gov. Paul LePage’s competing proposal began, it was unclear whether repaying the hospitals was a priority for Democrats, and Democratic leaders had insisted that any hospital repayment plan be kept separate from the liquor contract.

Fueling speculation that Democrats did not want to repay the hospitals was the emergence of a 2008 video in which Alfond said that ignoring the hospital debt might be one route to solving Maine’s budget woes. And while Democrats had not previously introduced any plan to repay the hospitals, their liquor contract bill, introduced by Senate Majority Leader Seth Goodall (D-Richmond), would have directed new revenues into the general fund rather than applying funds to the hospital debt.

Now, however, Democrats have followed the Governor’s lead and introduced a similar proposal that will prioritize hospital repayment and use funds from a retooled liquor contract – but not without a few strings attached.

According to a press release from the Senate Democratic Office, accepting federal dollars to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is a key component of the Democrats’ plan.

“It is encouraging to see that Democrat leadership has finally come around to realizing the importance of paying the $484 million owed to Maine’s hospitals,” said Senate Minority Leader Michael Thibodeau (R-Waldo).

“Governor Paul LePage has been working on his plan that would use liquor contract money to retire Maine’s hospital debt for six months, while the Democrats waited until a half hour before the public hearing on the bill to release their plan,” Thibodeau said.

Assistant Senate Minority Leader Roger Katz (R-Augusta) was encouraged that Democrats have finally agreed to pay the hospitals, but said their plan, in comparison to the Governor’s, will result in less money for Maine and more money for the private investors who will acquire the Maine’s liquor contract.

“Both plans call for borrowing,” said Katz. “However, the Governor’s plan has the state using its tax exempt status to borrow at rates considerably lower than those available to the private investors the Democrats apparently want to enrich.”

Katz said Democrats have introduced an “11th hour, poorly conceived scheme” to compete with the Governor’s for partisan reasons.  “It looks as though they’re against the Governor’s plan just because he’s for it,” he said.

Regarding the expansion of Medicaid, Katz said the issues ought to receive separate debates in the Legislature.

“Maybe Maine should expand Medicaid, maybe we shouldn’t. This is an extremely complicated issue, however, and needs to stand on its own as a separate bill to be considered by the Health and Human Services and Appropriations Committees on its own merits,” said Katz.

By S.E. Robinson

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  1. Caving in? Isn’t “proposing a different path” a better description?

    Nobody, including Maine Democrats, was ever suggested that the Maine hospital debt wasn’t a serious problem. Reasonable people can differ about the best way to resolve it.

    MHPC would serve it’s readership better with more reporting and less editorial malarky.

  2. Free Care is one step above Obama Care. No one expects our hospitals to work for free but I am dammed if I’ll pay for any of their massive expansions. The type of medical care that’s needed in the State of Maine can be administered out of a tent with the right supplies.

  3. If the D’s wanted to pay the debt they would have made the effort years ago. But they don’t care about the workers affected and jobs lost. By not paying the past due bills, that only enforces why Maine is not business friendly. Why would a business move to Maine when they treat the current ones like this? After listening to the hearing today it makes me wonder how some even won an election. There were some numb questions asked by one Senator in particular, and that was clear he did not feel the hospitals are worth being paid. Healthcare could not be administered under a tent like some suggest, and costs are through the roof because of Federal regulations and free care. We should all spend time in a hospital volunteering just to see how hard they work for the care and safety of each one of us.

  4. Cris if the Dems thought it was such a serious problem why did they let it become so huge? I really don’t expect you to answer that because anything you say would not be logical.

  5. Change of Heart” is an extremely sympathetic interpretation of what happened here. Don’t believe it for a minute. For a change, the Dems “doings” were exposed by the Governor’s direct appeal to the people, who overwhelmingly want the hospitals paid, now. No further machinations by the Dems, first preferring to not prioritize paying the hospitals at all, then in a last minutes scheme, thier idea of putting the money into the General Fund, and then trusting them (yeah, right!) to use it to pay the hospitals over time. You Go Governor LePage! Keep this up and the majority of Maine people might actually see the truth, despite the Leftist mainstream press – that your motivation is what is best for all Maine people, not, like the Dems, only motivated by giving perks to their special-interest-group-dominated constituents who will re-elect them.

  6. Al, I’ll take that is a thinly veiled, “Shut up, I don’t care what you think.” So, here’s something really illogical. When Democrat John Baldacci took office he inherited a hospital debt from prior administrations that was big enough to choke a Moose. He paid down 11 years of accumulated debt and now Dems are being crucified for it because he “sold out Mainers” with the State liquor contract. The State was in tough financial shape and, yes, with hindsight, they undervalued what they might have extracted.

    Why did Dems let it get so huge? Now there’s an assertion that simple defies logic.


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