AUGUSTA, Maine — A bid by Democrats to repeal the 2-year limit on methadone and suboxone treatments that are paid for by Medicaid passed Tuesday night in the Senate but could face a veto by Gov. Paul LePage, who has voiced support for the initiative since his campaign for office.

LD 951, An Act to Repeal the 2-year Limit on Methadone and Suboxone Treatments Under MaineCare, would have repealed a 2012 law that went into effect on Jan. 1 of this year. Methadone and suboxone are medications used to wean addicts from opiates and opioids. An amendment attached to the bill during the committee process set up exceptions to the lifetime cap for pregnant women, people with mental illness and parents of children under three years of age. It also allowed the prescription of “maintenance doses” of the medications for more than two years without prior authorizations.

While Democrats argued that it isn’t the Legislature’s place to make medical decisions, Republicans countered by saying the law would save Maine millions of dollars in its Medicaid program and prompt addicts who use the medications to speed up their recovery.

“Does the taxpayer of the state of Maine, those who are footing the bill for the methadone treatment, are they aware of the fact that we’re going to just extend this completely, with no limitations?” said Sen. James Hamper, R-Oxford.

Sen. Geoffrey Gratwick, D-Bangor, who is a physician, said doctors need the freedom to prescribe the treatments they deem fit.

“Is it appropriate that this body practice medicine?” he asked his Senate colleagues. “I think there has to be significant flexibility as health care providers deal with their patients.”

Sen. David Burns, R-Whiting, a retired police officer, said the lifetime limits were already producing results.

“These clinics were out of hand,” he said. “People were going to 12, 15, 17 years without any end [to being on methadone or suboxone] in sight. Many people testified to that and we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, I believe. … This bill finally has people working toward getting off methadone and suboxone. To turn the clock back now will be a disservice to the people who have been addicted.”

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, said he agreed that the Legislature should not put itself between a doctor and a patient, but that he does support putting limits on what Medicaid covers.

“Medicaid, from my perspective, is an insurance plan,” he said. “Like any other insurance plan, the insurer can set reasonable limits. The current law made sense when we passed it. It’s working and it would not make sense to repeal it.”

Gratwick disagreed with Katz. “Some people need this medicine for much longer,” he said.

The Senate voted on party lines, 20-15, in support of the bill. That followed a 80-57 vote in the House of Representatives earlier Tuesday. Neither tally is enough to override a gubernatorial veto, which requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.

Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.