Efforts to Close Maine’s Coverage Gap Thwarted by Last Minute, Late Night Tactics

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Accepting federal funds to provide affordable health coverage to 70,000 low-income Mainers would benefit the state in many ways. First and foremost, it would save lives. That alone is compelling. On top of that, it would bring nearly $470 million in new federal funds to our state, creating more than 3,000 good paying jobs throughout the state.  It would also help Maine address the drug crisis and it would create savings in our criminal justice system. For all of these reasons, it is extremely disappointing that, once again, the Legislature was unable to pass legislation to get it done.

A carryover bill, LD 633, from the 2015 legislative session had widespread support from constituencies throughout Maine, including the Maine Medical Association, the Maine Hospital Association, the Maine Sheriffs’ Association, the Maine Chiefs of Police Association and CoverMaineNow!, a coalition of more than 100 organizations working to improve access to affordable health coverage throughout the state.  Earlier in April the bill passed with bipartisan support in both the Maine House and Senate. Click here for the initial Senate roll call vote.

Click here for initial House roll call vote.

After passing in both the Senate and House, the bill was sent to the Appropriations Committee where a majority of the committee, with bipartisan support, voted to fund the bill. Unfortunately, late night shenanigans in the Senate stopped the bill from moving beyond that stage.   A motion that would have sent it to the Governor’s desk failed as two lawmakers, who previously voted in favor of the bill, changed their votes and voted against it.  In the end the bill lost the support needed to move it forward by one vote. Click here for the Senate roll call vote.

LD 633 would have provided 70,000 low-income Mainers with affordable health coverage, using federal funds to pay most of the cost. Coverage would have been provided through MaineCare and the private health insurance market.  It would have helped Maine’s struggling hospitals and community health clinics throughout the state, especially those operating in rural areas.  It would have helped Maine, like other states, address its drug crisis. These federal funds are being used by other states to provide treatment through drug courts and to inmates who are hospitalized or released from prison. Other states that have chosen to accept these funds are seeing savings to their criminal justice systems with fewer people reentering the corrections system for drug-related offenses.

Thirty-two other states have accepted federal funds to provide health insurance coverage to low-income people and are seeing savings and other benefits as a result of doing so.  LD 633 would have brought nearly $470 million in new federal funds to our state next year, creating more than 3,000 good paying jobs.  It would have resulted in at least $27 million in savings to the state budget. While states can change their minds and terminate this coverage at any time, no state has done so, citing the benefits of providing coverage and stimulating state economies.  Maine is the only state in New England that has not accepted federal funds to provide coverage to those who need it.

Maine can still accept these federal funds for health care coverage.  Maine Equal Justice Partners will continue working with lawmakers, partners and others to achieve this goal.   In the meantime, you can help by reaching out to your local Senator and Representative to let them know how you feel about this important issue.  Thank them for voting in support of LD 633 if they did, or let them know how disappointed you are that they didn’t support the bill if that is the case. Click here for contact information.

Let our lawmakers know that it’s not too late to accept the federal funds to cover 70,000 Maine people who need access to affordable health care– and that you hope they will sponsor or support the effort to do so if they return to the State House next year.