Hawke joins four others requesting referendum wording change

Republican group wants insurance stricken from proposed Medicaid expansion question
Posted:  Wednesday, August 23, 2017 - 11:30am

A local legislator wants to change wording on the referendum this fall calling for expanding Medicaid. Rep. Stephanie Hawke (R-Boothbay Harbor) joined four other House Republican lawmakers and a former Senate president calling for Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap to strike the word “insurance” from the ballot question.

The group is challenging referendum Question No. 2’s validity by questioning whether Medicaid payments can be called insurance. Hawke and her colleagues describe Medicaid expansion as “taxpayer or government funded heath benefits.”

Maine Equal Justice Partners is a non-profit advocacy group for low-income residents. The group gathered 67,000 signatures in 2016 to put Question 2 on this November’s ballot. In The Portland Press Herald, Executive Director Robyn Merrill defended Medicaid expansion as an insurance program.

“Medicaid doesn’t provide cash payments to those who would be covered under the expansion, but instead reimburses health care providers, including Maine hospitals, many of which are struggling to cover the cost of the state’s uninsured as charity care.”

Referendum Question 2 asks voters, “Do you want Maine to provide health insurance through Medicaid for qualified adults under the age of 65 with incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty line?” Federal guidelines set poverty levels at about $16,000 for a single person and $22,000 for a family of two.

Hawke, along with former Maine Republican Party Chairman and former Senate President Rick Bennett and current legislators Rep. Heather Sirocki (R-Scarborough), Assistant House Republican Leader Ellie Espling of New Gloucester, Phylis Ginzler (R-Bridgton) and Paula Sutton (R-Warren) signed the letter objecting to the wording.

The letter outlines perceived problems on “technical” and “practical grounds.” The word “insurance” appears in the referendum, but nowhere within the proposed legislation, according to the letter.  Hawke spoke briefly during a press conference. The main speakers were Sirocki and Bennett. Hawke responded to a media question on whether she was there as a legislator or citizen. Hawke’s response was, “as a concerned citizen.”

Hawke was invited by Sirocki to sign the letter and attend the press conference. Hawke didn’t know why more Republican legislators didn’t attend the signing.

Later in the day, Hawke explained why she attended the news conference and letter-signing ceremony. She said that during her two terms, the legislature has had to “fix” several previous referendum questions, and she has concerns about this fall’s Question 2.

“I agree this is simply not insurance under any definition of the law and shouldn’t be worded as such in the question,” Hawke said.

She has voted at least twice against Medicaid expansion. She described her opposition to Medicaid expansion as being concerned with “too many able-bodied people receiving benefits” and “expansion as being too expensive.”

The state’s Medicaid expansion would be part of the Affordable Care Act. The federal government would provide $525 million annually to Maine for the expansion. The state’s cost would be approximately $54 million each year. Even with federal dollars, Hawke believes the program would be a burden on local taxpayers.

“There is no such thing as free money. There are a lot of strings attached to this proposal,” she said. “We need to spend more money on the elderly and disabled so I think our state dollars can be better spent on these people rather than expanding welfare to the able-bodied.”

Hawke and her fellow Republicans allege the referendum is poorly written and doesn’t meet state constitutional standards of being “simple, clear, concise and direct.” She is concerned the question’s language would allow wealthy retirees to qualify for Medicaid expansion.

If the wording isn’t changed, the Republican group indicated it may challenge the referendum’s validity in court.

Currently, 19- and 20-year-olds, individuals with disabilities, the elderly and certain low-income parents qualify for Medicaid which operates as MaineCare. Maine Equal Justice Partners estimates Medicaid expansion would cover 70,000 additional Mainers. The Secretary of State’s office is currently reviewing all public comments on the two statewide referendum questions. The public comment period ends on Sept. 1. Dunlap spokeswoman Kristen Muszynski said there would be no discussion regarding specific concerns about wording during the review period.