WATERVILLE, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Maine hospitals are celebrating today because they have some money in their pockets. The checks and electronic payments were delivered today to finally pay off the state's $484 million debt to hospitals.
The hospital debt has been a political hot potato for more than ten years. It piled up because the state couldn't keep up with the costs for Medicaid patients under the old billing system. There were payments made under Governor Baldacci and the start of the LePage Administration. But the debt didn't go away, until today.
Governor Paul LePage went to Inland Hospital in Waterville to show one of those big checks -- $9.4 million. And another $106 million oversize check for all seven hospitals of the Eastern Maine Healthcare System, to which Inland belongs. Hospital leaders say the debt has taken a toll on them. Inland says it had to use a line of credit for some operating costs. Now they say the payments will take a lot of financial pressure off them, provide money for new capital projects and equipment upgrades. The Governor says it will also help the state's economy, by providing work for contractors and suppliers, and potentially pay raises for hospital workers.
LePage also travelled to CMMC in Lewiston where the state controller actually handed them the real check for around $33 million. Most hospitals were paid electronically, but the five largest payments -- including that one to CMMC -- had to be done with real checks, hand-delivered.
The hospital debt issue had been highly controversial in Augusta, but Democratic leaders praised the payment today. However, they also said the job won't be done until the state agrees to expand Medicaid to 70,000 more people, something the Governor does not support.
The total hospital debt was around $484 million. The state's share of that amount was roughly $184 million, with the balance coming from the federal government. The state borrowed the money through a bond, which will be paid back with profits from a new wholesale liquor contract. Administration officials say that contract will go out for bid in a few weeks.