Maine gubernatorial hopeful Mike Michaud on Monday touted a 10-part health care plan that includes taking advantage of telemedicine, supporting preventative care and improving substance abuse and mental health services.
The Democrat challenging Gov. Paul LePage again pledged his support for expanding Medicaid to an estimated 70,000 residents under the Affordable Care Act - a proposal the Republican governor fiercely opposes and has vetoed five times because he says it will be too costly for the state.
Michaud said in a statement that Maine "must think about people not as a collection of ailments, to be treated as cheaply as possible, but as members of our community who want to be happy, live independently and be treated with respect at all stages of their lives."
LePage's campaign criticized Michaud's continued push to add more people to the Medicaid program, saying that its growth the past lead to a $400 million debt owed to the state's hospitals, which was his administration recently paid.
"We cannot afford to go back to the Baldacci-Michaud era of failed health care policies that led our state into nearly a billion dollars-worth of debt," spokesman Alex Willette said in a statement.
Michaud's plan also includes examining whether Maine should create state exchange under the federal health care law, instead of relying on the federal website, which LePage's administration opted to do.
He also proposed creating a policy center to recommend evidence-based prevention and treatment plans for substance abuse and mental health, establishing a pilot program to determine whether combining patients' social and health care services can lower costs and improve care and facilitating the use of telehealth services, which allows physicians to interact with patients via video.
Independent candidate Eliot Cutler also supports the Medicaid expansion and has said Maine should create a state exchange.
His spokeswoman Crystal Canney said in an email on Monday that LePage's "prescription for health care has been a disaster and Michaud is the wrong guy to cure the system."
Meanwhile, a new poll says Maine's gubernatorial contest remains close, although Cutler is losing support.
According to Public Policy Polling, 43 percent of voters are with Michaud compared to 42 percent voting for LePage; however, Cutler is distantly trailing with 11 percent of the vote. If he were to drop out of the race, Cutler's voters would go to Michaud over LePage, PPP reported, with Michaud's lead at 50 percent to LePage's 46 percent in a two-way race.