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Katz-Saviello Medicaid expansion passes senate, 22-13

Hamper Medicaid Debate
Sen. James Hamper, R-Oxford, testifies against the Katz-Saviello proposal.

AUGUSTA – The Maine Senate approved a Medicaid expansion proposal Wednesday, but the vote, 22-13, fell short of the two-thirds total needed to surmount an inevitable veto from Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

Absent something extraordinary, Medicaid expansion now has no path to become law.

The bill under consideration, L.D. 1487, was introduced by Republican Sens. Roger Katz (R-Kennebec) and Tom Saviello (R-Franklin). Dubbed a compromise, the legislation includes last year’s Democrat-backed Medicaid expansion bill plus a provision that would outsource management of the state’s Medicaid program to private companies.

Every Democrat voted in favor of the Katz-Saviello proposal along with both sponsors.

“Bringing up expansion is like throwing off your gloves at a hockey game… It’s us versus them, but it doesn’t have to be that way,” said Katz.

He said his bill would both expand eligibility and help rein in consistent cost overruns.

“The concept is simple. Let’s take the management of this multi-billion dollar program and contract it out,” said Katz.

But other Republicans disputed the cost savings of managed care contracts.

“DHHS is currently engaging their own version of managed care,” said Sen. Jim Hamper (R-Oxford), the top Senate Republican on the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee. “Experience has shown that managed care corporations focus on reducing rates to providers. Maine’s reimbursement rates are already some of the lowest in the nation,” he said.

As for the expansion aspect of the proposal, Hamper pointed to previous expansions of Medicaid and warned of the “immense ongoing costs” of another expansion.

“We just paid off the hospitals – how much? $700 million or more,” he said. “We’re going to wind up in the same boat we just bailed ourselves out of.”

The 128th will debate raising sales tax and income tax to pay for this, he said.

The Katz-Saviello proposal was designed to elicit support from on-the-fence GOP lawmakers, but failed to do so today. Sen. Brian Langley (R-Hancock), a key swing vote, voted against expanding Medicaid last year and did so again today.

Although today’s senate vote brings Maine lawmakers one step closer to finishing debate on Medicaid expansion, the subject is certain to persist into November, as Democratic candidates and activists use the GOP’s opposition to campaign against state lawmakers and LePage.

Steve Robinson
Editor, Maine Wire