LEWISTON — Gov. Paul LePage called on Mainers on Saturday to rise up and demand payment of about $500 million to the state's hospitals.
"It's a sin," LePage said. "It's criminal. It's absolutely criminal, the behavior of (Senate President) Justin Alfond and (House Speaker) Mark Eves. And I'm going to tell you this: It's not the Democrats versus the Republicans. It is the people of Maine against Justin Alfond and Mark Eves because many, many Republicans and many, many Democrats are willing to get this done."
Alfond is a Portland Democrat and Eves is a Democrat from Berwick.
On Thursday, the Democrats in the Legislature offered LePage a plan to pay the hospitals if it were linked to a plan that would expand Medicaid coverage. The expansion would be 90 percent funded by federal money.
The state's $484 million debt is owed for services Maine hospitals have provided under the state's MaineCare program, which is funded by state and federal Medicaid money.
On Saturday, LePage took particular aim at Alfond and the Democratic plan.
"Obstructionist? The governor has a short memory," the senator said. "Weeks ago he threatened to veto every bill and he single-handedly has prevented 3,000 jobs and over $300 million dollars of investments in our state by not issuing voter-approved bonds.
"The governor, since talking office, has insulted Maine state workers, teachers and the Legislature," Alfond said in a prepared response. "Weekly, he blasts our great state. He has been the most divisive leader our state has ever seen."
Alfond promised that the hospitals would be paid during this legislative session.
"His repayment plan writes a blank check to the hospitals and does absolutely nothing to address the escalating costs of health care," Alfond said.
In the Democrat's plan, Maine would save $690 million, Eves said in a prepared statement.
“By accepting federal health care dollars and repaying our hospitals in one fell swoop we will cover more Mainers, save the state and hospitals money, and boost our economy,” Eves said.
The governor's plan would pay hospitals the $186 million the state owes for its share of the debt with a revenue bond. LePage is proposing to use revenue from the state's wholesale liquor business to finance the bonds. The state's share once paid would be matched with $298 million in federal funds.
MaineCare is a state and federally funded health care program for low-income families and individuals, and is paid for, in part, with federal Medicaid funds.
"I'm looking at Medicaid," LePage said. "It's a very complex issue. It's multiple years. It's into the future. They're unwilling to look at the fraud involved. It really concerns me that they want a blank check."
He repeated his promise to withhold his signature on most legislation until the hospitals bills are paid.
"If there are things that are going to help Maine people and are not held hostage, yes, I will sign it," the governor said. " But quite frankly, I haven't seen anything come out of the Legislature this year that's worth signing."
He added, "I'm going to gear up for the election in 2014 because there's not much I can do anymore. Without them passing it, I can't do anything."