AUGUSTA (AP) – Gov. John Baldacci on Tuesday ordered a partial payment of $45 million to Maine hospitals on a years-old debt totaling hundreds of millions of dollars for services rendered under the Medicaid program.

The money represents the start of a final push to complete a four-year commitment by the governor and the Maine Hospital Association in 2006 to repay the state’s debt for treatment of patients covered under MaineCare, as the state’s Medicaid program is known.

Among those expressing appreciation for the state’s effort to repay the money was Dr. Erik Steele, interim chief executive officer of Blue Hill Memorial Hospital, which recently announced plans to cut 15 positions as part of a cost-cutting initiative.

“This money gives us a little more breathing room,” said Steele, who also said he hopes that the state will not impose further cuts on MaineCare reimbursements.

Baldacci signed the order at a State House ceremony in which he was joined by officials of the Maine Hospital Association, legislative leaders and representatives of the state’s congressional delegation.

The order enables the state to use $45 million in federal stimulus money to leverage federal money that will provide hospitals with a payment totaling $163 million.

Baldacci has proposed an additional state payment of $57 million that will draw federal matching money to provide hospitals with nearly $211 million next year.

“We are fulfilling the promise of the Recovery Act by protecting jobs and protecting access to health care for our most vulnerable neighbors,” Baldacci said.

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