AUGUSTA — Leaders in the Legislature's Democratic majority renewed calls Tuesday to expand the MaineCare system to cover an additional 70,000 people, including childless adults and veterans who have non-service-related medical issues not covered by the Veterans Affairs Administration.
House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, disputed Republican claims that accepting federal funds under the Affordable Care Act to expand MaineCare would end up costing the state money.
"(Gov. Paul LePage's) accusations that it is going to cost more than it saves are wrong," Eves said.
Republicans have said the expansion would cost the state $10 million a year in administrative expenses, and once the federal funding is reduced to 90 percent of the state's total cost, the annual expense to taxpayers would be $75 million.
Eves said the fiscal note provided to the Legislature by the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal and Program Review shows the savings are greater than the costs because the federal reimbursement rates are higher under an expanded program.
"The state of Maine is one of a few states in the nation that is actually going to see savings if they make this decision," Eves said. "It is a missed opportunity that's going to hurt our economy. It's going to hurt families that can't access doctors when they are sick."
Eves predicted his caucus would have the support it needs to pass an expansion of the program in 2014. Democrats fell two votes shy in 2013.
But House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, said Eves' assessment may be wishful thinking.
"If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," Fredette said.
He said the Legislature had yet to have a full debate in a "meaningful way" on the issue.
LEWISTON — Gov. Paul LePage will visit Central Maine Medical Center on Wednesday to deliver the news that the state is making good on a $183 million debt it has owed the state's 39 hospitals beginning in 2009.
The state payment for past services provided under MaineCare, the state's Medicaid system, will trigger a federal matching amount, bringing the total payment to hospitals to more than $490 million.
LePage quipped that he would deliver the news "Publisher's-Clearinghouse"-style with a giant check, but he later said he was simply glad the state was finally making good on its debt.
Paying the hospital debt has been a focal point of LePage's administration and an issue he campaigned on in 2010, promising he would get the hospitals paid, if elected.
"It's not a windfall; it's paying our bills to them, but it's putting money into the state's economy," LePage told the Sun Journal in an interview.
LePage will visit CMMC at 2 p.m. after an 11:15 a.m. stop at Inland Hospital in Waterville.