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Republicans approve structural reforms to MaineCare

The Maine Senate and House on Tuesday approved a Supplemental Budget designed to reduce spending on MaineCare and put the state’s social safety net on a sound footing for the future. Gov. Paul LePage was expected to sign bill.

On final party-line votes of 19-14 in the Senate and 75-61 in the House, Republicans passed structural changes to MaineCare that will lower costs and seeks to end annual budget shortfalls that have plagued state government for years and threaten funding for other vital state programs.

LD 1746, the Supplemental Budget bill, was modified significantly by Republicans on the Appropriations Committee from the original proposal submitted by Governor LePage, while concurring with his position that structural changes are needed to ensure that MaineCare and core state government programs remain sustainable going forward.

Republican legislators noted that Medicaid enrollment has grown by 78 percent since 2002, while Maine’s population grew only 7 percent.  Maine insures 35 percent more of its population through the MaineCare program than the national average, and MaineCare represents 21 percent of all state funding—in 1998, it represented just 12.4 percent.

In 2009, Maine’s per capita Medicaid cost was $1,895 per person—over $700 more than the national average of $1,187.

One example of how the budget differs from the original proposal is the Drugs for the Elderly and the Medicare savings programs. Under the original proposal, approximately 78,000 people would have had their coverage reduced or eliminated. Under the final proposal, only 1,500 people at the top of the present income guidelines will have their benefit eliminated.

Medicare Part B premiums are now $99.90 per month. Under current law, individuals making under $20,664 per year will have their Part B premiums paid for by MaineCare. Under the proposal that was passed, individuals earning $19,547 per year or less will continue to have their part B premiums paid for by MaineCare, and some lower income individuals will have additional benefits covered.

In order to be part of this program, individuals must be federal Medicare enrollees.

In the budget, Republicans also honored their commitment to the General Assistance agreement reached by both political parties in the Supplemental Budget that was passed last month. When that item was line-item-vetoed by the Governor, Republicans pledged to address the issue upon their return.

“The Republican majority will not repeat mistakes made by past legislatures that used one-time revenues to put a Band-Aid on a broken system, hoping the problem will go away,” said Senate President Kevin Raye. “Rather than avoid difficult decisions and continue an endless string of budget shortfalls, we are setting the priorities required to ensure that MaineCare is sustainable and that our most vulnerable citizens will be protected over the long-term

Senate Majority Leader Jon Courtney stressed the need to act in the face of the $80 million MaineCare shortfall.

“Republicans were elected to solve problems,” said Senator Courtney. “That is what we are doing.  Difficult choices need to be made, and failure to act is not an option. For years the Democrats have not proposed long-term solutions to this problem that threatens all state government functions.”


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