Health care expansion bill clears House hurdle

GOP-sponsored measure backed by law enforcement addresses Maine’s drug crisis

AUGUSTA – A bill to accept federal dollars to expand access to drug addiction treatment and other vital health care won initial House approval Wednesday. The vote was 85-64.

The vote on LD 633 fell almost entirely along party lines, with all but four House Republicans opposed to the bill sponsored by one of their own party members, Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, and backed by the Maine Police Chiefs and Maine Sheriffs associations. Republican Reps. Kevin Battle of South Portland, Russell Black of Wilton, Norman Higgins of Dover-Foxcroft and Brian Hobart of Bowdoinham voted in favor of the measure.

“When I was sheriff, I saw the revolving door of drug addiction and drug-related crime every day,” said Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, the former sheriff of Cumberland County. “We have an opportunity to accept federal dollars and disrupt this cycle. We can reduce the costs to taxpayers of treating addiction in correctional facilities while curtailing recidivism and improving addicts’ chances of recovery.”

The Legislature is considering the bill as the state grapples with an opioid epidemic that is killing five Mainers each week. In 2015, 272 people in Maine died of overdose, an increase of 31 percent from the previous year.

Maine has the opportunity to join 31 other states that have accepted available federal health care funds to support health care. Notably, other states have seen tremendous savings to their correctional systems by providing coverage for addiction and mental health treatment.

“If we are serious about getting out in front of this epidemic – if we are serious about protecting our families and communities – we must be serious about treatment,” said Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell. “And, treatment is impossible without health coverage. That’s just good old Maine common sense. But there is also data to back this up.”

Rep. Martin Grohman, D-Biddeford, urged his colleagues to look at LD 633 with fresh eyes.

“Just because we don’t find a way to get health care to get someone who is making $14,000 a year health care – the same as what we here in the legislature make coincidentally – doesn’t mean they don’t cost the system. They still get sick. They still need counseling and behavioral health care. They still get opioid use disorder and they still go to jail,” said Grohman.

Grohman noted that LD 633 takes a different approach than previous MaineCare expansion proposals before the Maine Legislature.

The bill utilizes Medicaid to provide coverage to the poorest Mainers and private health insurance to expand access to affordable health care for other low-income residents. It requires eligible enrollees to contribute to the cost of their care and helps unemployed Mainers find jobs. If the federal government reneges on its pledge to cover the vast majority of the cost, the bill sunsets.

All newly enrolled Mainers would be required to contribute to the cost of their health coverage. Those covered by Medicaid would have to pay copayments up to the level allowed by the federal government, while those enrolled through the marketplace would be required to pay up to 5 percent of their incomes for premiums, copayments and deductibles. The bill also includes provisions to connect newly covered unemployed Mainers to job referrals through the Department of Labor.

The bill faces further action in the Senate and House.

Contact:

Ann Kim [Dion, Warren, Groham] 233-1838

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