As States Debate Medicaid Expansion, Maine Governor Looks to Cut Rolls

  • July 19, 2012
  • By Jim Malewitz

Maine Governor Paul LePage appears poised for a head-on collision with the Obama Administration over the issue of Medicaid eligibility.

In the wake of the  U.S. Supreme Court's health care ruling last month —  the federal government cannot take away existing Medicaid funds to penalize states that refuse to expand Medicaid under Obama's Affordable Care Act — more than a dozen of LePage's fellow GOP governors have suggested they might opt out of expansion.

But LePage wants to go further. The governor, who commonly refers to the federal-state insurance program for the poor as “welfare,” continues plans to boot thousands of people from Maine's Medicaid rolls, The New York Times reported Thursday (July 19).

Though federal officials disagree, LePage contends that the high court ruling gives states authority to tighten eligibility for Medicaid, a move which would normally require a waiver under the federal health care law.

Beyond the ideological message the cuts would send, such a move by LePage would also help plug a gaping hole in Maine's biennial Medicaid budget, which, as Stateline has reported, stood at nearly $220 million early this year.

Under LePage's plan, close to 15,000 low-income parents would lose Medicaid coverage, along with more than 6,000 19- and 20-years-olds, The Times reported. The governor also wants to constrict eligibility in prescription drug and health care programs benefiting the elderly and disabled.

Last week, U.S. Representative Chellie Pingree, a Maine Democrat, asked the Obama Administration to block any Medicaid cuts in her state.

“It is clear to me that the Governor's proposed elimination of Medicaid coverage would not only adversely affect the health and well-being of Maine residents and upset Maine's local economies, it would also be in direct violation of (law governing maintenance of rolls), even in the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling," Pingree wrote in a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, questions are swirling over cuts to its Medicaid rolls. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported last week that the state dropped coverage for 130,000 people, including 89,000 children between last August and January. That came as the state's Department of Public Welfare was struggling through a backlog of applications, and federal regulators said the department apparently abandoned protocol in sorting through the paperwork.

"Errors can happen," Carey Miller, spokesperson for the department told The Inquirer, "and if an error did happen, we would do anything we can to fix that."

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