AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) -- The state Senate on Wednesday upheld Gov. Paul LePage's veto of a bill to repay a $484 million debt to Maine hospitals and expand Medicaid, as the override effort led by majority Democrats fell four votes shy of keeping the bill alive.
Senators' 20-15 vote followed party lines, as Democrats made a final pitch to pay the hospitals while expanding Medicaid coverage to roughly 70,000 people.
"Make no mistake about it, if we vote today and do not override this veto, you're voting against paying back the hospitals, you're voting against providing health care to 70,000" people, said Senate Majority Leader Seth Goodall, D-Richmond.
The GOP leader, Sen. Michael Thibodeau of Winterport, said his party would be glad to consider the proposed expansion of Medicaid — known in the state as MaineCare — provided it is done as a separate bill. Legislation to that effect has been presented.
Democrats had agreed to go along with a plan advanced by the Republican governor to repay Maine's $186 million share of the hospital debt with revenues from future liquor sales. The state government is in the process of negotiating a new contract with a private company to market spirits. It includes pricing of some brands to compete more aggressively with New Hampshire liquor sales.
Democrats say the federal government has agreed to pay 100 percent of the costs of covering all newly eligible Medicaid recipients for the first three years and then gradually lower the payment to no less than 90 percent of the cost by 2020. Democrats say it's too good a deal to turn down, but Republicans are wary of the government's promises.
LePage was so strongly opposed to the Medicaid expansion that he vetoed a bill that included one-time repayment of the hospital debt, an issue that has been a top priority for his administration and on which he campaigned in 2010.
After the vote, Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick released a statement saying, "Democrats will not waiver in our fight to pay back our hospitals and extend health care coverage to thousands of Maine people."
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