Politics

May 19, 2013

State House Notebook: Republicans try to debunk Medicaid savings claim

Also: Gun-show bill remains in the Senate.

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

and Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.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 awhile, 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.

(Continued on page 2)

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