AUGUSTA — Republican Gov. Paul LePage said expanding the state's Medicaid program, MaineCare, would mostly benefit younger men who smoke and drink heavily.
Pointing to a newly released study in the Annals of Family Medicine, LePage said expanding the state's health care program for poor to include more single adults would only hurt elderly Mainers already on waiting lists for medical help.
“This study illustrates why we oppose a very costly Medicaid expansion,” LePage said in a prepared statement Monday. “This expansion of welfare would provide services to a younger population, while depleting scarce resources that are critical to care for those who desperately need assistance. We must ensure our neediest Mainers, the elderly and disabled, are put at the front of the line."
LePage also said he wanted the public to understand the expansion proposed under the Federal Affordable Care Act and largely supported by Democrats in the Legislature is for Medicaid programs and not Medicare programs.
LePage also pointed to an analysis by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services that shows the expansion would cost "Maine millions of taxpayer dollars in the short term and $150 million each budget in just a few years."
As proposed under the ACA, the program expansion would be paid for by the federal government at 100 percent for the first three years but then gradually ratcheted down to 90 percent over time.
The study's conclusions also seem to counter LePage's concern noting, "physicians can anticipate a potentially eligible Medicaid population with equal if not better current health status and lower prevalence of obesity and depression than current Medicaid beneficiaries . . . "
"Given the higher prevalence of tobacco smoking and alcohol use, however, broad enrollment and engagement of this potentially eligible population is needed to address their higher prevalence of modifiable risk factors for future chronic disease," the study states.
Democrats have also said the proposed expansion, which would add an estimated 70,000 to the state's MaineCare rolls, includes 3,000 Maine veterans who have no health insurance and are ineligible for federal Veterans Administration health benefits.
“Gov. LePage is spreading misinformation about a common sense bill to make it easier for more Maine families to see a family doctor when they are sick,” said Speaker of the House Mark Eves, D-North Berwick. “The truth is that tens of thousands of hard-working Mainers who work as cashiers at our grocery and hardware stores, take care of seniors, and nearly 3,000 veterans will benefit from health care expansion.”
Republican House Minority Leader Ken Fredette of Newport joined LePage in holding the study up as more proof an expansion of MaineCare would only end up costing state taxpayers more while further denying resources to the neediest Mainers.
“When Democrats expanded Medicaid over the years, they created a crisis where we saw massive budget shortfalls, a huge debt to our hospitals, and our disabled and elderly sitting on wait lists so that droves of younger people could get free medical welfare," Fredette said. "Medicaid has doubled as a share of the state budget in just the past 15 years and that’s not sustainable.”
Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, attempted to amend a bill that would have expanded Medicaid to childless adults in 2013. Sanderson's amendment would have required the state provide services to the disabled and elderly on the current wait lists before expanding MaineCare to childless adults.
The amendment would have cost the state about $75 million a year and was defeated in the House of Representatives. LePage ultimately vetoed a 2013 bill that would have expanded MaineCare and that veto was sustained.
Mitchell Stein, the policy director for the Maine-based Consumers for Affordable Health Care, said LePage picked only one part of the a lengthy study to focus on.
"It seems like the press release is very selective in describing the study's results," Stein said. He also noted that an overriding theme of the ACA is on preventing illness and disease and the study's findings support that as well.
He said getting younger people, even those who drink and smoke, access to health care will be less expensive than caring for them when they are older and with chronic illnesses that could have been prevented.
"It's cheaper to keep people healthy than to wait for them to get sick and then try to cure them," Stein said. "Access to these services is what these folks need to prevent high health care costs to themselves and society down the line."
State Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, also weighed in on LePage's statements Monday.
"It is clear that the governor does not want Mainers who work and are still poor to have the opportunity to see a doctor when they are sick,” Alfond said. “It is time the governor stop using misinformation and fear to pit Mainers against each other and join what doctors, hospitals, the business community, and many others know is the right economic and moral thing to do — expand health care to more Maine families.”