Legislative Committee Begins Review of Cost to Implement Medicaid Expansion

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AUGUSTA, Maine (WABI) - Voters passed Medicaid expansion in November.

The Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee began its review Wednesday to determine how much that will cost the state.

Maine became the first state in the country to expand access to health care under the Affordable Care Act by citizen initiative.

Now, a legislative panel is tasked with determining how much it will cost and how the state intends to pay for it.

"I think the problem we have here is this language was written for a citizen initiative and we're doing our best to figure out what that cost was going to be, but it's hard to go back and re-project because there's still a lot of questions about exactly when will things occur," said Luke Lazure with the Office of Fiscal Policy & Program Review.

The legislature's Office of Fiscal Policy and Program Review expects expansion to bring in about $525-million from the federal government.

They estimate the state's price tag will be about $54-million dollars when the federal share drops to 90% in 2020.

"Because there are no dollars in the bill that was in front of the voters, and there's no appropriation in there, we're not allowed to put that in because we can't change what the citizens have signed in the petition. So therefore, we don't get a crack at actually trying to put any funding in. That means in order for this to really happen, you've got to have another vehicle somewhere that actually provides that funding," said Mark Cyr, Office of Fiscal Policy & Program Review.

The expansion could happen as early as July, but Governor LePage says the fiscal review is underestimating the cost, and inflating the savings.

He says the initiative as written would balloon hospital debt and divert money from Maine's elderly, disabled, and children.

The committee hopes to use past Medicaid expansion bills as a starting point.

"Some assumptions that went into those, some assumptions that come out of the department. Looking at costs from other states who've done this sort of expansion and continue to gather good information so that whatever that vehicle ultimately is is very well-informed by a very deliberative process," said committee member Sen. Cathy Breen, (D).