For Maine, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan –- and a similar one proposed by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney –- would have wide-reaching, negative effects on health care and economic opportunity.
Our state has a large population of seniors whose health and health care would be immediately affected. Recently, for example, seniors gained expanded benefits under Obamacare in the form of fuller coverage of prescription drugs and free preventive care, such as checkups. Those physical exams catch health problems and help doctors and nurses monitor them. Affordable prescriptions enable people to treat diseases. Since Ryan and Romney would repeal Obamacare, these benefits would disappear, leading to more illness and earlier deaths –- all in all, higher costs and more mortality.
Also, seniors who cannot afford nursing home care can now get it through Medicaid. But under the Romney-Ryan budget, many could lose that access because Medicaid would be cut by one-third. Moreover, decisions about what to cover would be made by the states, which are under pressure to cover other populations. The Maine Legislature and governor could reduce benefits and throw anyone they want off the program.
Other programs helping hundreds of thousands of Maine’s elderly would also be cut –- such as the Meals on Wheels program that has used federal funds for the last 40 years.
Romney and Ryan are fond of saying that current seniors would not be touched, but this is not so. Besides the issues detailed above, their plan for future seniors affects current ones, too. Their Medicare proposal would create a voucher system, which seniors could use to put toward buying private insurance. One version makes these vouchers an option, but health policy experts warn that this would undermine Medicare because insurance companies would enroll the healthiest seniors, leaving traditional Medicare with the sickest people who need the most expensive care.
Future seniors would not be eligible for any Medicare until age 67. Therefore, people who are, say, 53 now and have been paying into the system for more than 30 years would have a major benefit cut because they would have to wait two extra years to have this public insurance coverage. And they would enter into the voucher version of Medicare. This is a part of the Romney-Ryan plan we hear precious little about but which has far-reaching and potentially devastating consequences for millions of people.
Additionally, Maine’s system of health clinics would be severely threatened as they are reliant upon federal grants and funding, along with other forms of payment. A recent study by the Maine Primary Care Association showed that these clinics make a significant dent in reducing costly hospitalizations and emergency room visits. Closures or cutbacks would mean higher taxes and insurance premiums for all Mainers, while leading to poorer monitoring of people with chronic illnesses and thus more intensive sicknesses and earlier deaths. Medicaid cuts would also hit middle-class and lower-income families who now get help caring for their children with disabilities, including autistic children.
At the same time, the Romney-Ryan budget approach would undermine economic opportunities. The large cuts in domestic spending would jeopardize education, from preschool, to K-12, to college. Funds for Head Start would be slashed, as would support for special education programs and staff. These are programs that have, for a very long time, demonstrated positive outcomes for participants, their families and the state.
College affordability is a big issue in Maine, and reductions in federal Pell Grants, loan assistance and work-study jobs for college students would make it harder to attend and complete college.
These proposed shifts are just some of the results of the Romney-Ryan budget. Every domestic program with federal funding, every public-private research partnership and every veteran would lose support. Meanwhile a very small group would see their overall taxes go down, as the Romney-Ryan budget would redistribute money upward.
Maine cannot thrive under the Romney-Ryan budget. Our state has a long and proud history of promoting job training, assisting low-income single mothers to gain education and skills and caring for its citizens.
Maine has many challenges ahead, and the potential impacts of this budget plan cuts against our future, particularly if our goal is to continue to take care of present and future generations in a way that promotes well-being and fairness and provides a secure foundation for the state. That is life as it should be.
Luisa S. Deprez is professor of sociology and women and gender studies at the University of Southern Maine. She is co-director of the Maine Regional Network, part of the Scholars Strategy Network, which brings together scholars across the country to address public challenges and their policy implications.