- Associated Press - Thursday, April 5, 2018

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Maine lawmakers on Thursday began publicly discussing how to pay for voter-approved Medicaid expansion as tens of thousands of low-income Mainers who could benefit wait for the state to take action.

The Legislature’s appropriations committee on Thursday reviewed competing estimates that Maine must shell out between $30 million and $58 million in its first year starting in July.

Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s administration has rejected estimates by the Legislature’s non-partisan fiscal office and the Maine Health Access Foundation that suggest expanding Medicaid eventually could mean a savings of $25 million to $27 million annually.

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Lawmakers are debating what to do with $140 million in projected surplus funds and whether to use them for the expansion. The committee is set to meet again Monday to consider a $10 million bill to fund 103 Department of Health and Human Services staffers and software needed for the Medicaid expansion.

Maine last year became the first state where voters demanded Medicaid expansion by a statewide referendum. The law would expand Medicaid to upward of 70,000 Mainers earning less than 138 percent of the federal poverty limit, roughly $17,000 annually.

The state missed a Tuesday deadline to submit a routine application to ensure roughly $500 million in annual federal funding for expansion by July 2, as outlined in the voter-approved law.

The governor for months has said he won’t take any steps to expand Medicaid until lawmakers provide funding without raising taxes, dipping into the rainy day fund or using budgetary gimmicks.

Maine technically can pay Medicaid expansion bills through May 2019 using current Medicaid dollars, an analyst from the Legislature’s non-partisan fiscal office told lawmakers Thursday.

Meanwhile, LePage has pushed lawmakers to develop a long-term funding plan to prevent Medicaid shortfalls that his administration tackled. Democratic lawmakers contend his administration could easily apply for federal funding without extra funds.

The governor’s administration is refusing to estimate how much expansion could save Maine when new enrollees can receive Medicaid funding instead of state funding for services, such as substance abuse treatment. The governor claims enrollments could vastly exceed expectations.

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