More dependency or opportunity: What’s at stake in Maine’s Medicaid expansion debate

Maine House Republican Leader Kenneth Fredette of Newport.
Contributed photo
Maine House Republican Leader Kenneth Fredette of Newport.
By Kenneth Fredette, Special to the BDN
Posted March 11, 2014, at 1:36 p.m.

After all Maine’s budget and economy have been through at the hands of Medicaid over the years, it is shocking that Democratic politicians would propose a new, record expansion of the state’s medical welfare program under Obamacare.

Their proposal comes just months after finally paying off our state’s massive debt to its hospitals — debt racked up by the very program they want to expand. It comes just as we’re trying to patch an $80 million hole in the state budget caused by — you guessed it — the very program they want to expand.

Recently, I read the transcripts of the debate that took place on the floor of the Maine House of Representatives back in 2001 when Maine passed its last major expansion of Medicaid.

It struck me how every single one of the promises that proponents of expansion made back then have failed to be realized today.

Free care provided by hospitals has gone up, not down. ER usage has not declined among those covered. Maine’s rate of uninsured has stayed the same. Health care costs have continued to skyrocket.

Today, liberal politicians are making the same promises all over again. How many times do we have to try the same old, failed welfare policies before we realize that they don’t work?

Some Mainers have had to learn the hard way. I grew up poor in Washington County. I know firsthand the perils of poverty, and I know firsthand how to overcome it. Welfare dependency is not the way.

The welfare expansion proposal entails covering 70,000 able-bodied adults of working age at a massive cost to Maine state taxpayers.

Democrats are saying that this time, Medicaid expansion will be different. Actually, in one important respect, it is. There is an alternative from the federal government for the people who would be eligible for expanded Medicaid.

Most of them are already eligible for low-deductible plans on the exchange for $10, $7, or even $1.50 per month.

That’s a pack of cigarettes. It’s a Netflix membership. It’s an energy drink. It’s coverage provided by the feds that actually does not come out of the state’s coffers, and studies show that private insurance leads to better health outcomes than Medicaid.

In fact, about 4,500 Mainers who would be eligible for Medicaid if we expand have already signed up for the exchange, according to the state Bureau of Insurance. By pushing Medicaid expansion, liberal politicians are telling them, “We don’t want you to have superior private insurance; we don’t want you to chip in just a few bucks for your health. We want you on welfare.”

That’s the wrong message to send in a state that ranks second in the nation for welfare spending.

Republicans have raised the alarm many times about our broken welfare system. For example, we introduced a bill to create a tiered welfare system that removes incentives for people to turn down jobs, promotions, raises and more hours for fear of losing benefits. Democrats killed that idea twice.

But right now we actually have an opportunity to create an incentive for low-income people to earn more. Those who earn at or above the poverty level (about $11,500), up to 400 percent of the poverty level, are eligible for subsidies on the exchange. Some of those who would be eligible for expansion fall under that threshold and don’t qualify for subsidies. As one insurance agent found, however, many of them are already looking for ways to earn a little more to qualify for the plans.

Don’t get me wrong. Like most Americans, I agree that Obamacare taken as a whole is bad for our economy and our health care system. Let’s not make it worse for Maine by expanding Medicaid. The existence of the exchange is just one major reason why we don’t need to.

Making private insurance more affordable was the reason why Gov. Paul LePage and Republican lawmakers overhauled Maine’s insurance regulations in 2011, leading to premium drops of up to 70 percent in the individual market, eight times as many northern Maine businesses seeing rate decreases, and more young people getting covered. That reform shook things up, gave us great results and stabilized the health insurance market in Maine.

I can think of no better contrast of our competing visions for Maine’s future than the Medicaid expansion debate. Liberals want policies that bring us more welfare, debt, deficits, dependency and broken promises. Conservatives want to reform welfare, strengthen the private sector and encourage work and personal achievement.

Liberals have had their way in Maine for most of the past few decades, but with a fresh approach to government, our state’s best days can lie ahead of us.

State Rep. Ken Fredette of Newport is the Republican leader in the Maine House of Representatives.

 

http://bangordailynews.com/2014/03/11/opinion/more-dependency-or-opportunity-whats-at-stake-in-maines-medicaid-expansion-debate/ printed on November 28, 2014