Maine governor signs hospital debt payment plan

Maine's Republican Gov. Paul LePage on Friday signed a bill authorizing the state to pay off hundreds of millions of dollars owed to Maine's hospitals for Medicaid services, but he remained silent on whether he plans to approve the state's budget or a proposal to expand healthcare coverage under the federal healthcare overhaul.

Maine lawmakers worked late into the night Thursday to pass three of the most significant pieces of legislation this session, including the bill to pay the state's hospitals — one of LePage's top priorities since taking office in 2011.

Lawmakers unanimously approved the bill that lays out a plan for paying the hospital debt. The hospitals will receive $490 million in combined state and federal dollars. The state will pay $183.5 million, which will come from bonds that will be paid off with anticipated revenues from a restructured, 10-year liquor contract. The federal government will pay off the rest of the debt.

The bill's passage was a significant victory for the Republican governor who often clashes with the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

But LePage stayed silent Friday on whether he plans to sign or veto the two other major pieces of legislation that hit his desk late Thursday night: the state's $6.3 billion, two-year budget and a proposal to expand healthcoverage to more Mainers.

LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett told The Associated Press on Friday that there is no word on if, and when, the governor will sign the bills.

But the governor has signaled that the measures are at-risk for vetoes.

Democrats previously tied the hospital debt payment bill to a proposal to expand Medicaid coverage to 70,000 more Maine residents.

LePage vetoed the measure and accused Democrats of playing politics with the hospital repayment and attempting to force "welfare expansion" on Maine residents.

"It is time to end the political games and get our hospitals paid," LePage said in a statement earlier this week.

The budget's fate is similarly uncertain.

LePage said last week that he will veto any budget that raises tax rates. The budget passed Thursday night would temporarily boost the state's sales tax and meals and lodging tax, which drew criticism from some Republicans who said it would hurt Maine families.

The state has until July 1 to approve a budget to avoid a government shutdown.



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