AUGUSTA – The Maine Senate voted to table insurance reform Wednesday morning as Republicans and Democrats continued to negotiate changes to the legislation that could impact the way some 40,000 Mainers get health insurance.
The Senate was in recess, but was expected to reconvene later Wednesday afternoon to take up the bill, LD 1333.
Key to the deal was concern among rural Republicans over a change that could push patients to hospitals miles from where they live.
While senators from both the Democratic and Republican parties noted a deal seemed imminent, details remained vague.
“There are a number of amendments coming and we are not announcing anything until we see them,” Sen. Justin Alfond, a Portland Democrat, said during a very short break from a caucus meeting.
Other lawmakers including Sen. Lois Snowe-Mello, R-Auburn, and Rep. Mike Carey, D-Lewiston, confirmed negotiations between leaders in the respective parties were ongoing. Carey said it was to the point of “horse-trading.”
Snowe-Mello said she would prefer to talk about the measure after it was voted on, but she was hopeful the insurance reform would be voted out of the Senate Wednesday.
Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters were gathering in the Capitol’s Hall of Flags for a rally over proposed Gov. Paul LePage reductions in funding for Maine Department of Health and Human Service and state pension programs.
According to the Associated Press, LePage’s budget calls for elimination of Medicaid coverage for childless adults and parents whose income exceeds 133 percent of the federal poverty level.
That amounts to $24,645 a year for a family of three. Low-income advocates say those cuts would jeopardize Maine’s economic recovery.
Silver Moore-Leaman, a retired adult education teacher from Auburn and the current president of the Maine Council of Churches, said lawmakers need to view the state budget as a moral document.
“Like many other institutions, the churches in Maine are seeing more Mainers every day who are hungry, working in low-wage, no-benefit jobs at risk of losing their housing or unable to afford decent health care” Moore-Leaman told a crowd of about 300 activists. “Losing access to general assistance or TANF or MaineCare will push more families and individuals over the edge into hunger, homelessness and illness.”
Moore-Leaman said churches were already at stage in Maine where they could not meet the needs of the impoverished coming to them for help.
“In times like this we believe it is simply wrong to ask more of the poor while asking less of the rich,” she said as the crowd gathered cheered.
But not everybody at the Statehouse Wednesday was opposed to LePage’s proposals.
“We very much support his fiscally conservative approach,” said Mark Turek, with the group Maine Taxpayers United.
Turek said his group had members in 110 communities in Maine and that LePage’s efforts at market reforms and spending reductions for the state budget were appreciated by many taxpayers.
“He’s a good man,” Turek said of LePage, “despite what some people say.”
Lawmakers on the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee were expected to take up some of the governor’s budget proposals during public hearing Wednesday afternoon as well.