GOP health plan could give new urgency to Maine Medicaid expansion backers

Note: We’ve been having problems with our email client over the past week and the wrong post was sent to email subscribers just after 9 a.m. on Wednesday. This is today’s Daily Brief. Sorry for the inconvenience. We’re working on it.

Good morning from Augusta, where Maine is seeing a microcosm of the national debate over the new health care plan from Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives with a big wrinkle: The Medicaid expansion referendum on the 2017 statewide ballot.

In a sentence, the outlined Republican plan substitutes a system of tax credits and grants to states for the federal subsidies contained in the Affordable Care Act and would wind down support for Medicaid expansion after 2020.

But it has led to a three-way division. Republicans are split, with House Speaker Paul Ryan and President Donald Trump behind it, while conservatives, including Gov. Paul LePage, say it doesn’t go far enough in nixing the health care law ushered in by former President Barack Obama. Democrats are resisting erosion of the law.

One of LePage’s main gripes is the proposal’s treatment of Medicaid expansion. It was optional for states under the Affordable Care Act, which aimed to use it to insure low-income adults. Maine is one of 19 states that hasn’t expanded. The governor vetoed expansion five times and wants it ended.

But some Republican states have expanded, and the new Republican plan walks a fine line it, continuing federal funding through 2020. After that, it freezes, which would eventually kill the program naturally as enrollees drop off.

So the referendum, which would expand Medicaid to an estimated 70,000 Mainers, would be temporary under the Republican plan. Proponents have pointed to studies showing expansion would spur economic growth, while the LePage administration has said it would send Medicaid costs soaring.

But Emily Brostek, executive director of the progressive, pro-referendum Consumers for Affordable Health Care, said the plan gives “new urgency” to the effort if “the money is on the table for a limited time.”

Matthew Gagnon, the CEO of the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center, which opposes expansion, agrees on the politics of that. He said one of the proposal’s flaws from a conservative perspective is that it puts Medicaid expansion proponents “on a clock” to pass expansion before 2020.

“I think it’s poorly constructed, to say the least,” Gagnon said. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • Republicans continued to prosecute an ethics case against an Orono lawmaker. They’ve been hitting Rep. Ryan Tipping, D-Orono, since mid-February after they highlighted his $9,000 job with a campaign that passed the new 3 percent surtax on income over $200,000 in 2016 as a conflict of interest. On Tuesday, they flagged a new letter to Tipping from Maine Ethics Commission Executive Director Jonathan Wayne. According to the interpretation of Jason Savage, the executive director of the Maine Republican Party, it makes clear that Wayne is “trying to extract himself from being used” to defend Tipping “and wants to make clear that he had not been given all the information in this matter.” Wayne’s letter isn’t so strong, but it says when he issued advice to Tipping in February, Wayne was out of town and didn’t know that Tipping was co-chairman of the Taxation Committee. It didn’t change Wayne’s advice to Tipping, which was that he likely doesn’t have a conflict of interest under the Legislature’s rules. But Wayne warns that lawmakers accepting political jobs “could result in the appearance of conflict of interest at a later time.” Republicans are using the letter to press majority House Democrats to convene an ethics probe against Tipping, which they rejected last week. — Michael Shepherd
  • Maine’s transportation commissioner will testify before its senior senator today in Washington, D.C. Commissioner David Bernhardt, who is also president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, will testify before the Senate Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee on funding national transportation needs. It’ll be chaired by U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican. — Michael Shepherd
  • LePage will have a town hall in Yarmouth tonight. It begins at 6 p.m. at AMVETS Post 2 at 148 North Road in Yarmouth. — Christopher Cousins

Today in A-town

  • A bill aimed at preventing oil spills in Casco Bay prompted by Bangor Daily News reporting is up for a public hearing. The proposal, from Sen. Ben Chipman, D-Portland, would make most oil-transferring vessels protect transfers with booms and contact the U.S. Coast Guard to notify it of transfers. That’s after the BDN reported that it wasn’t required and that government agencies don’t track the practice. It faces a public hearing before the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources at 10 a.m. and is co-sponsored by the committee chairs, Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, and Rep. Ralph Tucker, D-Brunswick.
  • That’s but one bill on a hefty committee schedule for today. Among the highlights is a bill being introduced in the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee that would put an end to politicians not enrolled in an established political party in Maine calling themselves “independents.” In addition to rebranding them “unenrolled,” the bill prohibits candidates who are interested in forming a new party to be placed on the ballot by petition, like Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson did last year. John Branson, an attorney for the fledgling Libertarian Party of Maine, intends to testify against the bill as “flatly unconstitutional.”
  • And there’s more. The Taxation Committee appears to be ready to take votes on a handful of bills that would exempt disabled and former active-duty veterans from a range of taxes. The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee will hold a work session on An Act to Make Abuse of a Corpse a Class C Crime, which we include here just for the soundtrack. If any of the affected constituents show up at today’s hearing, you’ll read about it in tomorrow’s Daily Brief. — Michael Shepherd and Christopher Cousins

Reading list

A Red Sox hat tip to a Maine icon on International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day and the Daily Brief hereby gives a nod to the hundreds and thousands and millions of women who are celebrating. This morning, our attention is drawn to arguably one of Maine’s most accomplished women, at least when it comes to sports: Joan Benoit Samuelson.

Some history: Samuelson grew up in Cape Elizabeth and running was a part of her life from an early age. While a senior at Bowdoin College, she won the 1979 Boston Marathon as a virtual unknown — breaking the record by 8 minutes while wearing a Boston Red Sox hat. She won it again in 1983. She etched her mark deeper into history in 1984 when she won the Olympic gold medal in the marathon — the first year the women’s marathon became an Olympic sport — and remains the all-time female record-holder in both the Chicago Marathon and the Olympic marathon. Let that sink in for a moment.

Since her retirement from competitive running, Samuelson, now 59, has become an author and running coach and founded the super-popular Beach to Beacon 10K Road Race. In 2003, at age 46, she won the Maine half marathon over dozens of runners two decades younger than her, including all but six of the male competitors. Let that sink in for a moment.

Samuelson, who lives in Freeport, has too many records and hall of fame inductions to list here. Check out this classic Nike commercial flagged this morning by the Wicked Early Sports Report newsletter, which is your soundtrack today and for the ages. — Christopher Cousins

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Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.