Maine Voters Chose Medicaid Expansion. Why Is Their Governor Resisting?

Sarah Varney, Kaiser Health News

This KHN particular collection examines the attain and the position of Medicaid, the federal-state program that started as a medical program for the poor however now offers all kinds of companies for a big swath of America.

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Donna Wall cares for her three grownup autistic kids at her dwelling in Lewiston, Maine. It’s a full-time job. Sons Christopher and Brandon have frequent outbursts, and the stress of tending to them might be overwhelming.

When her twin sons turned 18 a 12 months and a half in the past, Maine’s Medicaid program dropped her medical health insurance. Wall is taken into account a “childless adult” in Maine and different states that didn’t develop Medicaid, and so she isn’t eligible for protection. She can now not get her antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs. She can’t see her psychologist or a physician to inspect a troubling spot on her eye.

She wants to remain entire, she mentioned, for her children.

“I’m 60 years old. Things start going wrong when you get older,” she mentioned. “I haven’t had a Pap smear or breast exam in two years. I’m just worried something will happen to me, because who is going to take care of them? It’s a big job. If I put the boys in a home, it would cost the state a lot more to take care of them than it would be to pay my medical.”

Even on frigid, wintry nights, Wall delivers newspapers, incomes $150 per week when her children are asleep.

“I go out about 2 in the morning. And it usually takes me four to five hours,” she mentioned. “I try really hard not to fall, but I have had a few accidents. One of them was on black ice last winter.”

At one level, Wall thought she might need damaged a rib. But she stayed away from the emergency room for concern of a expensive medical invoice.

At least 70,000 low-income Maine residents like Donna Wall ought to achieve Medicaid medical health insurance due to the poll measure that handed final fall. Advocates collected signatures to place the query to voters, and, in November, Maine grew to become the primary state to get approval on the poll field to develop Medicaid, passing with 59 % approval.

But though voters right here in Maine determined to develop Medicaid, the legislation’s destiny is unclear. Republican Gov. Paul LePage has mentioned that opening up this system to extra poor adults threatens the state’s monetary stability and that lawmakers shouldn’t increase taxes to pay for it.

“You have to pay for the law,” LePage mentioned. “It’s going to cost money. And I intend to implement it, and the Legislature is required to fund it. If they do not fund it, it will not be implemented.”

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LePage has been in energy for seven years, and, due to time period limits, is heading into his last 12 months in workplace. He vetoed 5 Medicaid enlargement payments handed by the Legislature earlier than voters authorised it.

Lawmakers should now pay for the brand new legislation with out elevating taxes or dipping into the state’s wet day fund, he mentioned. And he warned that the enlargement might threaten companies for folks with disabilities and the aged.

“When able-bodied people, who are able and should be working, choose not to work, then I don’t think it’s society’s responsibility to cover their insurance at the expense of our mentally ill, our disabled and our elderly,” he mentioned. “We’re asking hardworking Maine families to pick up the extra tab for people who should be working, but elect not to be.”

Sara Gideon, the speaker of Maine’s House of Representatives and a Democrat, mentioned the governor’s remarks will not be true.

“Let’s start with the population of people who will actually be eligible for health insurance now,” she mentioned. “We’re talking about people, almost 70 percent of whom are people who are actually in the workforce, who are earning a living, but not actually able to afford health care with the low income that they earn.”

Gideon mentioned LePage should comply with the legislation. Moreover, she is assured the Legislature will discover a option to fund the state’s share of $54 million and maintain its guarantees to the aged and disabled.

“It’s not a choice between people, one group of people over another. It’s a false choice that this governor is trying to present. And we say, we’re not going to make that choice. It is the law. And we’re simply going to make sure that that law is implemented,” mentioned Gideon.

For rural hospitals in Maine, the Medicaid enlargement can’t come quick sufficient.

“Our rural hospital is struggling,” mentioned Marie Vienneau, CEO of Mayo Regional Hospital in Dover-Foxcroft. “We don’t make money. We lost a million and a half dollars the last two years.”

Maine’s rural cities and their hospitals have been hit onerous. Factories have closed and plenty of residents have moved away. As employees misplaced their jobs, extra uninsured sufferers turned to rural hospitals determined for medical care however unable to pay. Mayo is going through monetary uncertainty, and no less than three rural hospitals in Maine have closed in recent times.

Deanna Chevery was laid off after 25 years when the Dexter Shoe Co. manufacturing unit closed in Dexter, Maine. Now 60 years previous and uninsured, she’s recovering from an dependancy to ache capsules prescribed by her physician for again ache.

She overdosed 5 occasions, costing Mayo Regional Hospital greater than $200,000 in unreimbursed care. Before Chevery discovered the charity restoration program at Mayo Regional, she mentioned she was turned away when she sought assist as a result of she couldn’t pay.

“You can only go so many places. Nobody will take you,” mentioned Chevery. “They don’t care if you’re crawling on the ground. I’m just fortunate Dover helps me.”

But Vienneau mentioned the hospital can’t sustain with Maine’s rising opioid epidemic and ever-rising prices with out expanded Medicaid.

“You can only go so many years in a row where your business doesn’t lose money, before you depreciate to the point that you have to start closing services, decreasing services,” mentioned Vienneau. “And then access goes away.”

Medicaid advocates, like Maine Equal Justice Partners, are pressuring lawmakers to place the brand new legislation into impact shortly. The group has been receiving postcards from across the nation congratulating them on turning into the 32nd state to develop Medicaid, and advocates in lots of different purple states that refused to develop Medicaid are eyeing their very own poll measures, together with Nebraska, Utah, Idaho, Florida and Missouri.

Patrick Willard, a senior director at Families USA, a progressive advocacy group primarily based in Washington, D.C., mentioned that after years of Republicans attacking the Affordable Care Act, voters are starting to shift their views.

“What we have heard is that other states suddenly see an opportunity now to figure out a way that they can get around legislatures that have been holding this up,” mentioned Willard.

As state lawmakers in Maine work out the small print of the brand new legislation, many disagree with LePage about how a lot it is going to value. His administration estimates the worth tag can be twice what the Legislature’s nonpartisan fiscal workplace has projected.

If they’ll’t resolve the deadlock, LePage mentioned, he’ll take authorized motion, if needed.

“We will go to court, because I know — listen, one thing that I know better than the Legislature is financial responsibility. And I have proven it over the last seven years,” mentioned LePage.

Advocates say those that are eligible for Medicaid might enroll as early as this summer time. But if there are delays, they too will sue.

Just days after our interview, Donna Wall fell throughout her middle-of-the-night paper route and broke her ankle. She nonetheless doesn’t have medical health insurance and is uncertain how she’s going to look after her autistic kids and unsure what the longer term will convey.

Jason Kane of PBS Newshour contributed to this story.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a nationwide well being coverage information service. It is an editorially unbiased program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which isn’t affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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