AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- On a largely party-line vote, the Maine House has given initial approval to a controversial bill that would repay hundreds of millions of dollars the state owes to hospitals, and at the same time expand Medicaid by accepting more federal dollars.
The House vote Tuesday evening was 87 to 57, with one Democrat siding with the minority. The vote came after a divisive and partisan battle over medicaid expansion, and specifically, over whether that issue should be tied to the bill to repay the state's share of the $484 million hospital debt. Republicans and the governor want the two issues dealt with separately.
Democrats say providing medicaid to nearly 70 thousand new Mainers will prevent them from going to the emergency room for treatment, which they say becomes more expensive in the long run.
"So it's time we stepped up to the plate and stopped the same old bologna that I've heard for twelve years, and start taking care of the people that want to be taken care of and deserve to be taken care of" Rep. James Campbell Sr. (I) Newfield said.
Republicans worry the expansion under the Affordable Care Act will come at a cost to taxpayers, and they want more time to find out.
"Not only does this state and our constituents deserve to know the cost before we hand them the bill, we should know the cost before we make this commitment and ask the people of Maine to please remit" Rep Deborah Sanderson (R) Chelsea said.
Earlier Tuesday, Senate Democrats also rejected Republican efforts to separate the two proposals.
The bill faces more votes before being sent to Governor LePage, who has promised to veto it even though he has made repaying the hospitals a top priority this session.