AUGUSTA, Maine —
Maine voters will decide Tuesday whether to expand Medicaid, also known as MaineCare, to about 70,000 low-income Mainers.
It is Question 2 on the statewide ballot.
Members of the Maine Legislature have already voted to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act five times.
Gov. Paul LePage vetoed each of those efforts, and lawmakers could not override the veto.
Republican Rep. Heath Sirocki has held firm against Medicaid expansion.
She said previous expansion under Gov. Angus King and Gov. John Baldacci created a financial mess.
“It just broke the bank. We ended up owing the hospitals $750 million in unpaid, overdue, Medicaid welfare bills. We cannot go down that trail again,” Sirocki said.
Opponents of Question 2 characterize Medicaid expansion as “welfare.”
They said there are affordable private insurance options for low-income Mainers — individuals making less than $17,000 per year.
Sirocki and others said there are better ways to spend state money on health care.
“The disabled must come first. It is absolutely shameful that we have hundreds of people languishing on wait lists for whom the Medicaid program was designed to serve, and they’re not being served,” Sirocki said.
Sirocki said Medicaid expansion is bad for health care providers.
“You’re taking healthy, able-bodied people out of the private insurance market and you’re funneling them into … forcing them into the Medicaid program with lower reimbursement rates. It doesn’t make financial sense,” Sirocki said.
Supporters of Question 2 said Medicaid expansion would be good for Maine health care providers, especially rural hospitals.
“A lot of these communities really depend on the hospitals as their primary employer,” Dr. Sam Zager said.
Zager, a physician, said the bottom line is expanding Medicaid would save lives.
“When people have access to care, you can keep people alive, you can keep people functioning and working,” Zager said.
Zager and other proponents of Question 2 said the net economic benefit for Maine would be positive.
The federal government would cover at least 90 percent of the cost of expansion.
Question 2 supporters said Maine would pay in about $50 million for a return of $500 million.
“It’s good for the economy, it’s good for people’s health and it’s good for Maine overall,” Zager said.
Thirty-one states, several with Republican governors, have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, increasing health care coverage to about 11 million Americans.
Of the 70,000 Mainers who would be covered it the state expanded Medicaid, 20 percent are parents.
Zager rejects the notion that expanding Medicaid is “welfare.”
“If we’re going to turn our back on people because there might be some people that somebody doesn’t think has worked hard enough, then we’re going to turn (away) a lot of really hard-working Mainers who deserve to have a future,” Zager said.