AUGUSTA – The final chance to expand Maine’s Medicaid program pursuant to the Affordable Care Act fell short on Thursday when supporters of the proposal failed to garner enough votes to overcome Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s veto.
In a 94-53 vote, Majority Democrats under the leadership of House Speaker Mark Eves (D-North Berwick) failed to persuade enough of their Republican colleagues to switch their votes on what has been the most controversial issue of the 126th Legislature.
Although the latest iteration of the idea, L.D. 1578, now goes to the history books, the debate over Medicaid expansion is far from over. Maine’s Democratic Party and a consortium on liberal interest groups are intent on making LePage’s veto a campaign issue and future Legislature’s will certainly reconsider the proposal.
An independent analysis by the Alexander Group pegged the cost of expansion to Maine taxpayers at more than $800 million over ten years, which would increase Medicaid spending as a portion of Maine’s budget from 25 to 39 percent.
Those costs factored strongly into LePage’s decision to veto five Democrat-backed expansion attempts.
Democrats, conversely, argued that Medicaid expansion would be an economic stimulus for Maine’s economy, as federal dollars multiply throughout the economy. According to a press release, House Democrats believe expanding Medicaid eligibility to tens of thousands of Mainers would create 4,400 jobs and provide $1 million per day in economic activity.
“Maine people and our economy are losing out while other states are taking advantage of this unprecedented opportunity,” Eves said in a prepared statement.
Most Republicans in the House ultimately did not believe in the economic benefits of adding up to 100,000 people to the welfare rolls and rejected the proposal as unsustainable.
“ObamaCare’s welfare expansion represents the failed status quo of welfare spending and debt in Maine,” said House Minority Leader Ken Fredette (R-Newport) in a press release.
“Governor LePage’s veto of it represents the kind of reform that Maine’s economy so desperately needs, and sustaining that veto was one of the best things we did for Maine’s economy in the past two years,” he said.
The Medicaid expansion debate will now leave the halls of the State House and head to the campaign trail where LePage will have to defend his veto.
Democrat U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud and independent candidate Eliot Cutler, LePage’s two opponents in the governors race, have both publicly endorsed Medicaid expansion.