CONTRIBUTORS

Medicaid expansion meltdowns show Maine made right decision

Maine House Republican Leader Kenneth Fredette of Newport.
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Maine House Republican Leader Kenneth Fredette of Newport.
Posted May 19, 2014, at 11:13 a.m.

One of the biggest issues to consume the Maine Legislature over the 2013-14 term was whether to implement Obamacare’s welfare expansion in our state. The initiative would have put 70,000-100,000 more people on the Medicaid rolls at a cost to state taxpayers in the hundreds of millions of dollars over the long term.

Republicans in the House and Senate recalled how past expansions in Maine shattered initial cost estimates. We thought about the Medicaid-induced budget shortfalls we face every year and the massive Medicaid hospital debt we just paid off.

Then we considered how Medicaid has been shortchanging our nursing homes and disabled people on waitlists for years, and how those who stood to benefit from Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion are all able-bodied, working-age adults who are disproportionately young and male. Finally, we found that the vast majority of them can already buy their own coverage for just a few dollars per month on the federal exchange.

All of these factors combined to make it clear that Medicaid expansion is a bad deal that represents the failed status quo of welfare dependency, not the vision for limited government and economic growth that Republican lawmakers and Gov. Paul LePage are fighting so hard to achieve here in Maine.

The way Medicaid expansion is playing out in other states is quickly proving that Maine Republicans made the right call by sustaining the governor’s vetoes of expansion.

Arkansas implemented a “private option” Medicaid expansion similar to what Maine Democrats proposed at the end of this year’s session. In that state, the expansion has exceeded cost projections every single month so far this year. It’s nearly $8 million over budget at this point.

The costly disaster has led their Medicaid director to resign, the state government to seek a federal bailout, and former champions of expansion to backtrack and disavow their support.

In Rhode Island, a similar fiscal calamity is playing out. That state expanded under the traditional deal as offered by Obamacare, similar to what Maine originally considered. The Ocean State is facing a $52 million budget shortfall because they originally estimated that 28,000 would sign up by September, but by the end of March, over 64,000 able-bodied people had already flocked to the free medical welfare.

In California, expanded Medicaid is over budget by $1.2 billion this year, forcing even the Democratic governor to exhibit fiscal caution and say “no” to special interests’ clamoring for more spending on their pet projects.

Maine had a taste of shattered enrollment projections back in 2003, when we expanded Medicaid to childless adults. We estimated that 11,000 would sign up, but ultimately had to cap enrollment when 25,000 had signed up two years later.

Not only are the facts bearing out the wisdom of turning down Medicaid expansion, but an increasingly informed population is turning against it as well. In Virginia, where expansion is currently being considered, they’re seeing an 18 percent drop in support for the policy in just two months, and those surveyed indicated they’re paying closer attention to the expansion debate.

Here in Maine, where expansion advocates touted high support early on, the latest public poll shows that folks are roughly divided on the issue.

Contrary to what this paper’s editorial board is fond of asserting, Republicans here in Maine didn’t oppose Medicaid expansion out of some kind of ideological disdain for Obamacare; in fact, we encouraged Medicaid expansion-eligible people to sign up for the federally funded Obamacare exchanges as an alternative to more state-funded welfare.

We opposed expansion because we take the long view. We see where this Medicaid spending odyssey has taken Maine’s budget and what it’s currently doing to states like Arkansas, Rhode Island and California.

I don’t doubt that Democratic politicians genuinely think this is a good deal and will help people, but they’ve controlled our state for the most part for decades, and we believe Maine can do better than these kinds of big-government policies.

LePage and Republicans believe that by reforming welfare, rejecting expansion, paying our bills, and limiting the size and scope of government intrusion into our lives, we can unleash an economic renaissance in Maine that will bring our state forward to its brightest days.

By focusing our resources on the truly needy, letting hardworking Mainers keep more of their money, ending the cycle of intergenerational dependency and making our state a magnet for jobs and investment, Maine can and will do better as reform replaces the status quo.

Rep. Ken Fredette, R-Newport, is the Republican leader in the Maine House of Representatives.

 

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