AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage’s administration on Wednesday continued its stern opposition to any plan to increase enrollment in Medicaid, trotting out the commissioners of the state’s natural resource agencies, who said growth in the program was eating away at their budgets.
Agriculture Commissioner Walter Whitcomb said the state’s natural resource agencies — Agriculture, Conservation, Marine Resources, Environmental Protection, and Inland Fisheries and Wildlife — had lost $13 million in state funding in just five years, a reduction he attributes to regular annual shortfalls in the the Department of Health and Human Services, which administers MaineCare.
“We represent what Maine is widely known for, it’s iconic image,” Whitcomb said. “But the natural resource agencies have taken it on the chin, financially.”
The media event was the strongest push yet by LePage to make his argument that Medicaid is “cannibalizing” other state programs.
The Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee is expected to discuss a plan by Republican Sens. Roger Katz of Augusta and Tom Saviello of Wilton to expand Medicaid to roughly 70,000 low-income Mainers for three years and hire three or four managed care organizations to administer the state’s entire Medicaid population of more than 300,000.
Under the terms of the Affordable Care Act, the expansion effort would be nearly 100 percent federally funded for the duration of those three years. If the Legislature decides to continue to cover Mainers who make less than 138 percent of the federal poverty limit after that, the federal government would reduce its share to 90 percent.
The two moderate senators see expansion — a key priority for legislative Democrats — as their chance to overhaul MaineCare, and hope a slew of GOP-friendly proposals in their compromise plan will be enough to win the veto-proof majority support needed to pass expansion into law.
Katz and Saviello predict reduced Medicaid costs if their plan is adopted, but DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew on Wednesday said “the miraculous savings are not real.” She noted the reduction in the federal share of costs for current MaineCare population, and said the state should expect more of the same.
“Democrats say adding 100,000 people to Medicaid is free, but we all know better,” she said, citing different enrollment numbers used by the Alexander Group in its controversial expansion feasibility study.