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Senate passes MaineCare expansion amendment

Glenn Adams, Associated Press

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) -- The push for expanding Medicaid to add 70,000 more Mainers gained marginal support Thursday with Senate approval of an amendment to cut off the state's participation in the federal program after three years.

By a bipartisan 23-12 vote, the Senate approved the amendment to the bill to expand Medicaid, administered as MaineCare in the state. The legislation was sent to the House.

Medicaid expansion under the national Affordable Care Act is among the major issues awaiting resolution as Maine lawmakers work toward a June 19 adjournment. Many states are grappling with the mandates of the new federal health care law.

Maine Republicans have been opposed to expanding MaineCare, but assistant Senate Republican leader Roger Katz of Augusta said Thursday, "I think it's time to act."

The Katz amendment would repeal the expansion Dec. 31, 2016, but does not say what happens to the thousands covered by the expanded program when that happens.

During debate, Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Ripley, said getting people dependent on welfare only to "pull the rug out from under them" is wrong.

"This makes a terrible bill worse," he said.

The amendment calls for federal confirmation that the state will receive a 100 percent compensation rate for childless adults covered under MaineCare, including those covered as of December 2009. In addition, it calls for larger co-payments to discourage abuse of the program.

"Is it what the Democrats want? No. Is it what the Republicans want? No. Is it what the independents want? I'm sure not," said Senate Majority Leader Seth Goodall, D-Richmond. "It's time to compromise. It's time to work together. People's lives are on the line."

The new federal law requires the government to pay 100 percent of the cost for covering all newly eligible people for the first three years and then gradually lowers the payment to no less than 90 percent of the costs by 2020.

Maine Republicans say the law still presents too many financial risks for a state that has grossly overspent what it can afford on social services. The House earlier this week passed a version of the bill including language aimed at getting GOP votes.

"We're in financial trouble ... we're in deep trouble financially," said Sen. James Hamper, R-Oxford. "We cannot afford this."