BANGOR, Maine — Anyone who needed convincing that the issue of Medicaid expansion is contentious need look no further than Wednesday’s Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce breakfast.
The normally serene Early Bird Breakfast was the scene of a sometimes heated three-way debate over whether the state should accept federal funds to expand Medicaid.
Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew, Shawn Yardley, director of community services for Penobscot Community Health Care and Harrison Clark, president of ServiceMaster Contract Services, faced off over expansion in front of a capacity crowd of local politicians, city and business officials at the Hilton Garden Inn in Bangor.
Mayhew, a vocal expansion opponent, sat between Yardley and Clark, who want the state to take the federal match and provide health care for more Mainers.
The commissioner opened her comments by saying expansion would be “terrible for the economy and terrible for the state of Maine,” forcing her department and others to sacrifice other critical priorities in order to cover the long-term costs associated with expansion.
State agencies are competing for a pool of limited resources and “adding dependency on DHHS services isn’t going to improve that,” she added.
“Democrats say that adding 100,000 people to Medicaid is somehow free, but we all know better,” Mayhew said in a statement released shortly after Tuesday’s debate. “Medicaid has grown by more than $1 billion over the last 10 years because of previous expansions and the reality of healthcare cost increases. It is nonsensical to believe that after years of financial crisis in Medicaid, that the answer today is to add another 100,000 people to the program.”
Yardley and Harrison argued that Maine should take advantage of the federal government’s pledge to help Maine invest in getting more people insured.
Clark said too many low-income Mainers don’t seek medical care when they start showing signs of illness because they don’t have the coverage they need. Even fewer take part in preventative care needed to stem serious illness.
When people get too sick, they go to emergency rooms or seek help from groups like PCHC, driving up costs for those organizations and costing the state more money down the line, Yardley argued.
“I think it’s important that we don’t pit potholes against people,” Yardley said, adding that “health care should be a right and it’s an appropriate investment for our state.”
Mayhew argued that most of those uncovered Mainers should seek out coverage on the Obamacare exchange. She said her agency should not add to its costs when it already has been “rocked with financial crises over the past couple decades.”
While the Bangor breakfast debate was underway, Gov. Paul LePage issued a statement titled “Medicaid expansion is bad for the environment,” announcing a news conference with leaders of natural resources agencies to stress that Medicaid expansion would cannibalize funding for other state agencies.
“In the 13 years since Maine expanded welfare, Medicaid enrollment has more than doubled, and its cost has grown by $1.3 billion,” the governor’s announcement states. “Medicaid now takes 25 percent of all general fund revenue. More than $2 billion will be spent on Maine’s Medicaid program over the next two years. Even without expansion, Medicaid is projected to total more than 35 percent of the general fund.”