May 26, 2018
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In Maine, tell Obama to listen

By Steve Abbott, Special to the BDN

The president is coming to Maine to talk about his health care law. It would be better if he were coming to listen.

Some have called the new law “historic” saying it will “help small business.” It certainly is historic. Never before have Americans been mandated, by law, to buy something. Never before have Americans been told by their government, “You will buy this, or you will be punished.”

As for “helping small business,” that’s like saying the meals and lodging tax helps tourism. The majority of Maine employers are small businesses that now will suffer significant administrative and financial burdens. One Maine trucking company has calculated the annual cost of complying with this law at $250,000.

Maine desperately needs to encourage the creation and growth of business. This plan does just the opposite. It discourages growth.

One employer told me he’s afraid to bid on a new project that will require adding staff because to execute the project he’ll need more than 50 employees. Companies with more than 50 employees must provide health insurance or face fines of up to $2,000 per employee. How many Maine businesses will be forced to hold their full-time employee count to 49 in order to avoid the costly mandates that come with a higher payroll?

The new law also creates a new “health insurance income tax.” This new income tax will force Americans who purchase in the exchange to pay more for their health insurance when they get a pay raise, work overtime, or even when a family member dies. The average family of four will pay a greater percentage of any pay raise for health insurance than they will for income taxes.

Maine also has the oldest population in the country with 17 percent of Mainers on Medicare. This law cuts $500 billion from Medicare.

Also, Maine has a government-run health care program: Dirigo. Since 2003, we’ve spent $155 million for a program that insured only 3,400 previously uninsured people. The program is a well-intentioned failure. As governor, I’d eliminate Dirigo and start over.

Maine can make dramatic improvements to our health care system without waiting to see what becomes of this unwanted federal legislation. We should move Dirigo’s recipients — and MaineCare’s — to a managed care system administered by health care providers as a fee-per-patient rather than a fee-per-service system. Shared risk would cost less, provide better access to preventive care, improve cash flow for doctors and hospitals, and improve the quality of care.

As governor, I’d also promote health savings accounts. Giving people more control over how health care dollars are spent will keep the cost of health care down. We need to allow the purchase of insurance across state lines and allow pooling. With only 1.3 million people in Maine, we don’t have the high numbers needed to obtain lower insurance rates. We need to cross state lines and pool policies to get them.

The federal government should fix our unfair Medicare reimbursement rate. Many Mainers who are not on Medicare pay 133 percent of the cost of their care. We pay more for our care, because in Maine, Medicare reimburses our hospitals and providers less than their costs. That’s unfair, and it’s the No. 1 reason our costs are so high.

That change alone could do more to help Mainers than any health care bill this Congress will ever write.

The federal health care law was the president’s chance to lead, to take the best ideas from both parties and craft a program that significantly lowered health care costs and gave incentives to the public and private sectors to make care and coverage more accessible. Instead of leading, the president was led. He was led by partisan lawmakers and lobbyists into a debacle that not only showed disrespect for the legislative process, the institution of the Congress, but also for the American people.

People are struggling with the cost of health care and coverage, there’s no question. But the president and Congress could have helped them without hurting so many others.

People may let the president know they’re disappointed when he’s in Maine. They’ll certainly let him know in November.

Steve Abbott is a Republican candidate for governor.

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