The shortsightedness of Gov. LePage’s crusade against MaineCare was exposed earlier than expected, when the federal government gave a Portland clinic $74,000 that it can’t use last week because its homeless clients are ineligible for health coverage in Maine.
The grant came a little more than a week after the Legislature failed to override the governor’s veto of a bill which would have accepted federal funds to insure about 70,000 Mainers for the next three years.
The governor and his Republican allies in the Legislature were able to block the bill, even though it had majority support (including some Republicans) because they claimed that Maine couldn’t afford to expand its program.
Democrats argued that we couldn’t afford not to, and the situation in Portland is the first indication that they were right.
The state of Maine does not save any money by denying health insurance to these homeless adults. Including them in MaineCare with 100 percent federal funding would not have added to the state budget.
In fact, the state would have benefited. Federal money would have been used to pay the Mainers who provided care to this population.
That would mean more money in our economy circulating among stores and other businesses, creating jobs.
Not expanding MaineCare has already hurt the Maine economy. The $74,000 that was earmarked for the Portland clinic won’t be spent here unless Maine changes the law.
And, significantly, the health problems of those homeless adults will not go away just because Maine refuses to let the federal government cover them with health insurance.
Operating a clinic is a far more cost-effective way of meeting those needs than relying on emergency care. Refusing to allow this group of people federally funded coverage means that any care they do receive will stress hospitals’ charity care budgets and result in higher premiums for the businesses that provide their employees with insurance.
Unfortunately, the business community and especially the state’s hospitals did not make this point strongly enough when the issue was before the governor.
As more examples like the Portland clinic’s grant come up, it should be more obvious why it was such a bad idea to reject the federal funding this year. Republican lawmakers should be asking themselves whether they were misled by the governor on this issue.