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Maine governor vetoes Medicaid expansion proposal

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bill Wednesday that would expand Medicaid coverage to roughly 70,000 residents under President Barack Obama’s federal health care law and privatize the program through managed care, sending the measure back to the Legislature, where two-thirds of lawmakers would be needed to overturn his rejection of the bill.

In his veto letter, LePage reiterated his staunch opposition to the proposal, saying it would have a ‘‘disastrous impact on Maine’s budget’’ and calling the proposed savings through the expansion and managed care ‘‘mirages.’’ He also vetoed the plan the two other times the Democratic-controlled Legislature sent it to his desk last year.

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‘‘Proponents of this bill tout ‘free’ federal money and unspecified state ‘savings’ with no backup for these claims,’’ LePage said. ‘‘It is shortsighted to think federal funds will always be available, especially after watching the federal deficit climb and witnessing continual delays and changes from Washington.’’

Lawmakers’ ability to override LePage’s veto is uncertain. The two previous attempts to override the veto of the bill, which requires two-thirds support of present-and-voting lawmakers, failed last session.

The measure passed in both chambers last month, but fell short of the support it would need to overturn LePage’s veto.

Democratic leaders called on their Republican colleagues to help them override LePage’s veto.

‘‘The governor’s veto message is a direct message to the Mainers whose health care has become too costly and out of reach,’’ said Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson of Allagash. ‘‘He’s told them, ‘Don’t get sick’! Instead of trying to help them, he has, once again, pulled the ladder up behind him.’’

Developed by two Republican senators, the bill was designed to be a compromise and includes several things that GOP lawmakers wanted, including an attempt to reduce the waitlist for service in Medicaid and putting two new fraud investigators in the attorney general’s office.

It also seeks to provide budget stability in the swelling Medicaid program by having the state contract with private companies to operate the program and allowing the state to withdraw from the expansion after three years, when the federal government begins to gradually lower its share of the cost from 100 percent to 90 percent or more.

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