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White House, local Democrats urge Maine to expand Medicaid under Obamacare

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Despite Obamacare’s recent stumbles, the White House on Monday called on officials in yet another state — this time Maine — to expand Medicaid coverage to thousands of low-income residents.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, and state lawmakers could add 28,000 to the federal-state entitlement program if they dropped existing resistance to the expansion, as outlined in the Affordable Care Act, according to the administration and state Democrats. 

SPECIAL COVERAGE: Health Care Reform

“We have a moral obligation to provide health care to every person in this state,” Portland Mayor Michael Brennan said on a conference call arranged by the White House.

The health care law sought to enroll those making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level into Medicaid, with the federal government paying for 100 percent of the newly eligible population in 2014-2016 before scaling back its contribution to 90 percent in 2020 and beyond. 

But the Supreme Court said the Obama administration could not force states to expand the program by withdrawing existing Medicaid funds, effectively making it optional. So far, roughly half of the states have chosen not to expand their rolls.

President Obama recently held a rally in Texas to urge state leaders to expand the program, but statewide officeholders told him to take his message elsewhere.

Conservatives such as Texas Gov. Rick Perry say the expansion is bad deal for the states because it will inflate state-level costs in the future and Washington may renege on its promises — all in the name of a government-run health program that many Republican lawmakers view as broken.

Proponents of expansion say conservative states are leaving money on the table that could insure many more residents and save money over time.

White House spokesman Joshua Earnest said 24 states that chose not to expand Medicaid could add 5.4 million people to the rolls by 2016 if they came around to the idea.

All told, if all states decided to expand Medicaid, they collectively would save roughly $10 billion in uncompensated care costs during the next 10 years, he said.

Maine state Rep. Linda Sanborn, a Democrat, said that without expansion, residents who make just under the federal poverty level would be in the unfortunate position of making too much for Medicaid but too little to qualify for government subsidies on the state’s health exchange.

“Now they fall into a gap, because Maine hasn’t accepted the federal government’s offer,” she said.

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