On Maine Politics

May 19, 2013

Study claims huge savings under MaineCare expansion

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
State House Bureau

and Michael Shepherd mshepherd@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

There's been a lot of rhetoric during the debate over expanding publicly funded health insurance for the poor. And an oft-cited study by the Kaiser Family Foundation has been dragged into the fray.

The study, released in November, attempted to project the coverage and cost impacts of Medicaid expansion in each state. It showed that Maine would save $690 million over the next 10 years if the state expanded eligibility for the health care program. The savings were confirmed by the conservative Heritage Foundation, although the group certainly wasn't advocating for expansion.

Democrats and advocates of expansion have seized on the estimate in their push to expand Medicaid. It took a while, but Republicans have since attempted to discredit the study.

Among their arguments is that the study is based on every state participating in expansion. Clearly, not every state plans to expand Medicaid, so the study — and the savings — are flawed, the argument goes.

But according to Chris Lee, a Kaiser spokesman, the savings projections for Maine won't change if the state participates in expansion and other states don't. In an email, Lee said the variance in state participation would "change our national projections, but not the projections in other states that do undertake the expansion."

Republican criticism of the study doesn't end there. And there are policy decisions that no study can measure.

Chief among them: Will the federal government continue to reimburse states for their additional Medicaid recipients at 90 percent after fully reimbursing them from 2014 to 2016?

Some Republicans don't think so.

Gun show loophole

A bill designed to stop private sales of guns if buyers aren't screened for prior criminal activity remains in the Senate after narrowly winning the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee's endorsement on May 2.

Sometimes, the amount of time a bill is tabled can signal that it is controversial or destined for defeat. It's not yet clear whether the latter fate awaits L.D. 267, a bill that's part of the ongoing national debate over the effectiveness of closing the "gun show loophole" as a preventive measure against gun violence.

The bill is certainly controversial.

Licensed gun dealers in Maine are already required to run background checks on buyers at gun shows. The proposal, sponsored by Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, would require private citizens who sell at shows to make background checks. Failure to do so could result in a civil penalty of $2,500 for the first violation and $5,000 for subsequent violations.

Last week, the National Rifle Association sent out an action alert saying the bill effectively "criminalized" gun show sales.

Opponents have also questioned the effectiveness of closing the loophole.

Proponents of the bill cite a 15-year-old investigation by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms that found gun shows were responsible for 26,000 illegally sold guns. The Northeast was responsible for 8 percent of those gun sales.

The vintage of the ATF study provides a clue about the bureau's enforcement capacity. The bureau is responsible for monitoring gun shows to track sales. It told the Arizona Republic in 2007 that it didn't have the resources to adequately patrol for illegal activity.

Each of the bureau's 25 field offices is required to monitor six gun shows every year. A report this year by the U.S. Department of Justice inspector general said that 18 of the 25 field offices met the fiscal year 2011 goal of attending at least six gun shows. The field offices in Boston — the one that oversees Maine — New York and Newark, N.J., were among those that didn't meet the inspection quota.

Enforcement issues have surfaced in states that have closed the gun show loophole.

In 1998, Florida voters approved amending the state's constitution to require background checks on private sales at gun shows. Despite voters' 72 percent approval of the measure, a report in April by the Tampa Bay Times said county ordinances were largely ignored.

Maine's assistant Senate majority leader, Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, said L.D. 267 could come up for a preliminary vote on Tuesday.

Workforce price tag

Both Democrats and Republicans (but mostly Democratic leaders) have been trumpeting a "first-of-its-kind" workforce bill in recent weeks. It's well on its way to passage in the Legislature after gaining initial approval in the Senate last week.

Among the sweeping bill's highlights are a "seamless" credit-transfer system between the University of Maine System and the Maine Community College System. The lack of that has been a longstanding lament of many in state government and education.

But there's one thing they haven't been talking about much: its cost, which could become an issue in a tumultuous budget season.

Any bill with a fiscal note needs approval from the Legislature's budget-writing committee, which finds a way to pay for it. If the committee can't find the money, the bill fails.

The workforce bill's fiscal note says it would cost nearly $9.4 million over four years, just over $5 million of which would come in the next two budget years. About half of the four-year total, just over $4.7 million, would go to the community college system.

That kind of a fiscal note could kill many bills. But this bill has bipartisan support and allies in wide-ranging interest groups, from the university and community college systems to the pro-business Maine State Chamber of Commerce to the Maine AFL-CIO, a coalition of labor unions.

Still, it would have to be funded. Since there's no budget proposal that's palatable to most legislators and Gov. Paul LePage, it might be worth holding your breath — for now, at least — on the workforce bill.

The shame game

The week in Augusta will be kicked off with a public hearing before the Education Committee on the Democrats' vague, conceptual alternative to LePage's A-to-F grading system for Maine schools.

The bill, L.D. 1540, sponsored by Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, the committee's Senate chairwoman, was announced earlier this month, just after LePage's system.

Democrats said it would encompass certain points, from attendance and graduation rates to interviews with parents.

LePage's system is based largely on standardized testing.

Rep. Bruce MacDonald, D-Boothbay, the Education Committee's House chairman, said it is intended to "shame and blame" schools, while Republicans said the Democrats are the only ones attaching shame.

Look out for the response to the Democrats' system on Monday. The issue is probably the most partisan one in Augusta this session. That's not likely to change.

Steve Mistler — 620-7016
smistler@mainetoday.com
Twitter: @stevemistler

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652
mshepherd@mainetoday.com
Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

 

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