No Maine family should have to choose between putting food on the table and paying for medicine. Yet it happens all of the time. Now, our Republican colleagues in the Legislature are putting forth a budget that will make those choices even harder for more Maine seniors and working families.
An editorial in the Bangor Daily News, which ran on May 14, entitled “DHHS Budget: Nearly there,” posed this question to readers: “Would you choose to reduce services for children with mental illnesses or cut funding for Head Start, which serves low-income children?” This is a false choice and completely misses the point that we do not have to make these cuts. In fact, the state now has a surplus of more than $50 million.
Our Republican colleagues are choosing to make cuts that will hurt our children, seniors and the disabled, while passing unfunded tax cuts. Democrats are responsibly relying on existing surpluses to cover the costs rather than make these unnecessary and harmful cuts.
Our budget plan is balanced and uses money we know we have in the bank to help cover the costs of the shortfall in the Maine Department of Health and Human Services budget. In these tough economic times, we don’t believe children and seniors should bear the brunt of these ideological cuts.
Instead, Democrats propose to find millions of dollars in savings by increasing the efficiency of health care. Right now, 5 percent of the population receiving health care through Maine’s Medicaid program, MaineCare, accounts for 55 percent of the cost. These are our most sick and vulnerable neighbors. Our plan proposes to lower costs by more efficiently and effectively caring for them.
Democrats also reduce millions of dollars in costs and save money by going after fraud. No one should be allowed to game the system, especially big insurance companies, unscrupulous providers and unethical individuals who are padding their pockets at the expense of hardworking families.
Make no mistake, the people who will suffer from this budget are seniors who will no longer have access to low-cost medicine or parents whose ability to work depends on access to low-cost child care. The true cost of cutting health care for tens of thousands of Maine people will fall squarely on middle-class families, who already pay through the nose in property taxes and private insurance policies.
Study after study shows that sick people who don’t have access to a family doctor seek care in Maine’s emergency rooms. With charity care at its highest, the hospitals can’t absorb the cost, and in turn, it is passed to private insurance holders. This cost shift will take more money out of the pockets of working people, who are already struggling to make ends meet.
Tuesday, Democrats will vote no to these harmful cuts and stand up for Maine people. We have a better plan, and we have your backs.
Rep. Emily Cain, D-Orono, and Sen. Barry Hobbins, D-Saco, serve as the Democratic leaders in the Maine House and Senate.