December 15, 2017
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Maine can’t afford to make the same mistake with Medicaid expansion again

By Heather Sirocki, Special to the BDN
Updated:
George Danby | BDN
George Danby | BDN

Medicaid expansion will give taxpayer-funded welfare to working-age adults who are not disabled. Maine tried this before. We ended up with a massive debt owed to Maine hospitals and a budget crisis.

That is why Maine voters should vote no on Question 2 this November.

Pages of complicated law comprise ballot questions; much more is involved than a simple summary. That’s why I urged the Maine secretary of state to rephrase Question 2. Even after changes, however, it doesn’t disclose important details.

Question 2 now reads: “Do you want Maine to expand Medicaid to provide healthcare coverage for qualified adults under age 65 with incomes at or below 138% of the federal poverty level, which in 2017 means $16,643 for a single person and $22,412 for a family of two?”

Medicaid is a taxpayer-funded welfare program that already covers the truly needy. This question, however, will give welfare to working age adults who aren’t disabled.

Expanding Medicaid will cost Maine taxpayers at least $50 million per year or, as one recent study has shown, up to $100 million per year with ever-increasing cost.

How do we pay for it? With limited choices that include cuts for roads and bridges or education, another massive debt to hospitals, perpetual budget crises or tax increases on hardworking Mainers.

While proponents say money will come from Washington to help cover the cost of expansion, federal dollars are not “free.” Strings are attached, and federal dollars come from taxes paid by Mainers. A state that relies heavily on federal matching dollars is vulnerable; federal cuts to programs financially devastate states.

Voters should know Medicare covers senior citizens and is not affected by this referendum.

Maine’s Medicaid program, known as MaineCare, was designed to serve the needy. It already covers Mainers who are either disabled or have a disabled family member, a parent or related caretaker of a dependent child or children under age 19 who needs help, the blind and pregnant women.

Question 2 will dramatically expand Medicaid, and the proposal before the voter involves health benefits for people who are able to work with no premiums, no sliding scale, no deductible. Where is the “skin-in-the-game”?

With the lowest unemployment rate since World War II, Maine has an abundance of help wanted signs. Those working at the state’s minimum wage comprise about 5 percent of Maine’s workforce. Those who work just 26 hours per week at Maine’s current minimum wage qualify right now for taxpayer-subsidized health insurance that costs as little as $15 per month. Subsidies are available for incomes between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level, yet proponents of Question 2 would have us ignore this option.

In fact, roughly 43,000 low-income Mainers could qualify for taxpayer-subsidized insurance, which allows greater treatment options, instead of adding them back onto the Medicaid rolls.

Many doctors and health care professionals overwhelmingly prefer private health insurance with its higher reimbursement rates over Medicaid.

Maine has a shortage of doctors. We are underserved in the health care categories of nurses, dentists, hospitals and nursing homes. Low Medicaid reimbursement rates make it difficult to attract them. Nursing homes with high rates of Medicaid clients already lose so much money as a result of low reimbursement rates that some cannot keep their doors open.

We shouldn’t vote to expand Medicaid and exacerbate these problems.

Remember Maine’s previous Medicaid expansion resulted in a $750 million debt to Maine’s hospitals and hospital job layoffs. The projections were vastly understated.

The state budget was swamped as people left their insurance for “free” taxpayer-funded Medicaid. Enrollments were capped to stop hemorrhaging. Then budget cuts resulted in thousands of truly disabled individuals being placed on waitlists, hundreds of whom are still waiting for help. This debt was finally paid with a one-time fix after a budget crisis and Legislative deadlock for weeks.

We can’t go back.

This is yet another attempt by well-funded special interest groups to force voters into making laws at the ballot box, a job primarily reserved for lawmakers. Legislators study issues, discern costs and listen to facts. Now the voters must do the same before they vote this November.

Heather Sirocki represents District 28 in the Maine House. She is a member of the Welfare to Work PAC, which opposes Question 2 on the November ballot.

 


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