On Wednesday, Maine lawmakers once again declared their positions on Medicaid expansion from the floor of the Senate. What was remarkable was that, despite the fact that the bill to expand Medicaid to 70,000 low-income residents is significantly different from last year, the arguments against it didn’t really change. In fact, instead of the compromise bill drawing more support, it drew less.
Last year, 23 senators approved related legislation, while 12 opposed it. This time, the vote was 22-13. Moderate Republican Pat Flood of Winthrop switched his vote.
The state needs just two more GOP senators to stand up to an eventual and certain veto from Gov. Paul LePage, to reach the necessary two-thirds threshold in that chamber.
Is the art of compromise dead?
Don’t let anyone tell you differently: The bill these senators voted on Wednesday addressed all the real complaints of Republicans. Sponsored by Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, it would have implemented a managed care system, to have outside entities handle the state’s Medicaid program, with built-in cost savings.
Money saved from the changes would pay for the services needed by developmentally disabled Mainers on waitlists. The legislation would allow for the hiring of more fraud investigators and authorize a committee to study the roadblocks people face in getting off Medicaid.
After three years of the federal government paying 100 percent of the costs of newly eligible Medicaid recipients, the legislation would initiate a hard stop of the rollout unless the Legislature voted otherwise.
Not to mention it would give people health care who need it most.
Or that the Legislature’s nonpartisan budget office found it would cost only about $683,520 over three years.
Or that lawmakers in all other New England states have found a way to work together and move forward.
Or that the Affordable Care Act cut Medicare funding to health care providers, including hospitals, in anticipation they would get increased funding from Medicaid, meaning without expansion they’re facing big losses.
Or that, without expansion, the privately insured and providers will continue to pay the costs of treating the uninsured.
Or that the federal taxes imposed to pay for Medicaid expansion apply regardless of Maine’s expansion decision.
The path is clear, yet Republicans are so stuck in their own rhetoric and loathing of Obamacare that they can’t even recognize a compromise that answers their demands. Do they really think the status quo is better?
The most disappointing argument on Wednesday came from Sen. Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth, considered an important swing vote before he voted no.
Despite acknowledging the “great leadership” needed to enter into compromise, he ultimately relied on the same broken line of reasoning LePage also has used to argue in favor of denying benefits: that because he worked his way out of poverty, others can do the same, without governmental assistance.
Unfortunately, using personal experiences and anecdotes might be an effective way to get elected, but it makes for bad governing. Lawmakers need to rely on data and research to make the important decisions, not the history of one.
If having health insurance is truly a “disincentive to work,” as Langley said, then why does Norway have greater economic output per hour worked than the U.S., despite the fact all Norwegians have free health care?
Langley was referencing a Congressional Budget Office report from February that found the ACA will lead to a reduction in the labor supply. But the report also projected the ACA will boost demand for goods and services and, in turn, labor.
We can all argue about aspects of Medicaid expansion, but ultimately a decision should be based on the fact that health care improves people’s quality of life. Access to lifesaving medicines and preventive care shouldn’t be a privilege belonging only to those who can pay. Lawmakers have a chance to raise the standards of living for many people. Do they really want to go down divided and spitting falsehoods?
So far, the answer, once again, appears to be yes.