Dear Governor LePage,
Can we talk about cannibalism for a minute?
No doubt about it, it’s a word that’s guaranteed to make people cringe. In fact, I just looked up the “Top 10 Cases of Human Cannibalism” on the Internet and could make it only to No. 5 – the notoriously full-of-themselves Mauerova family in the Czech Republic – before I hit the “close” button in horror.
Which makes me a total wimp compared to you, right, Big Guy? In your never-ending quest to demonize Maine’s poor, you’ve transformed our entire Medicaid program, known as MaineCare, into the cannibal that is eating state government!
“Maine Agencies Cannibalized by Welfare Spending,” shrieked the headline of a news release put out twice in the past two weeks by Adrienne Bennett, your intrepid press secretary. For those with weak stomachs, Bennett linked to her release a slightly tamer litany of warnings, headlined “Medicaid Consumes the General Fund,” from other spokespeople throughout state government.
(As the old scaremonger Alfred Hitchcock himself once advised, “Always make the audience suffer as much as possible.”)
Better yet, Governor, on Wednesday you dispatched top officials from the state’s natural resources agencies to warn the citizenry that it’s only a matter of time before MaineCare swallows Augusta whole.
“We represent what Maine is widely known for, its iconic image,” observed Commissioner Walter Whitcomb of the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. “But the natural resource agencies have taken it on the chin, financially.”
(Note to Commissioner Whitcomb: When the topic for the day is cannibalism, it borders on overkill to start citing specific body parts.)
Nothing subtle about this horror show of a news conference, was there, Governor? It represented your latest – and hands-down most creative – attempt to prevent as many as 70,000 Mainers from gaining much-needed access to health care under the Affordable Care Act.
More specifically, it was your response to a MaineCare expansion plan developed by two of your fellow Republicans – Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta and Sen. Tom Saviello of Wilton – that is fast attracting legislative support on both sides of the aisle.
Katz and Saviello stopped by the newsroom this week and laid out a clear, compelling and perfectly rational argument behind their proposal:
It would expand MaineCare, at long last, to those at or below 133 percent of the federal poverty line. What’s more, it would do so through a new, managed-care model run not by the state, but by private-sector providers that would compete for the opportunity to deliver health care, at a set fee per patient, to Maine’s neediest population.
It would “sunset” automatically in three years, when the 100 percent federal funding begins dropping incrementally to 90 percent. And if the feds reneged on their 100-percent promise before then, the plug would get pulled immediately.
It would require a nonpartisan analysis to help future lawmakers determine whether the expansion achieved its goals (including a 5 percent reduction in health delivery costs) over those three years and, more importantly, whether the program is worth preserving beyond the three-year cutoff.
It would eliminate those abhorrent waiting lists for developmentally disabled adults who need non-health services (they already receive MaineCare) to live fulfilling lives.
Heck, Governor, it even calls for more fraud investigators!
In short, Katz and Saviello are doing precisely what they were elected to do: identify a complex problem, come up with an intelligent solution and cut a path through the political thicket to connect the two.
And what have you done?
Well, let’s see …
You vetoed the last attempt at a bipartisan solution to the MaineCare problem, without offering anything remotely resembling an alternative of your own.
You signed a no-bid, $900,000 contract with the Alexander Group, which was supposed to provide Maine with a blueprint for “reforming” the state’s entire welfare system. Last time I checked, owner Gary Alexander was neck-deep in ridicule for what little work he’s produced, still missing his deadlines and under attack by legislators who want to cancel his cushy contract before you give him more than the $378,000 he’s already pocketed.
And now that Alexander has been widely dismissed for the impostor that he is, was and always will be?
You had no choice, did you, Big Guy? You had to go and play the cannibal card.
It’s not like we didn’t see this coming: John Martins, communications director for the Department of Health and Human Services, laid it all out quite succinctly in a recent series of emails with his colleagues in which he suggested pursuing the anti-MaineCare “messaging objective without tying it to the (Alexander Group) report.”
At the same time, Martins reported that departmental mouthpieces across state government were hard at work detailing “the Medicaid impact on their programs.”
I’d have given my left pinkie to see your reaction, Governor, when you heard that Martins had hit the “send” button after mistakenly addressing the emails to a reporter here at the Portland Press Herald. I’ll bet you were tempted to march right down to DHHS and bite the poor guy’s head off.
I was also more than a little let down when I heard you were a no-show at this week’s rollout of the Cannibal Alert.
I figured you’d be there sporting a black T-shirt emblazoned with “Bite ME, Obama!” Instead, all we got were your top departmental brass dutifully denouncing MaineCare – and, by association, all those poor folk who recently lost their coverage – as the monster that’s devouring our state government.
My guess is, you skipped “Cannibalooza” for fear that some pesky reporter might ask: Why, amid all this hand-wringing over tight resources, have you refused to play any role whatsoever in helping to plug a near-$100 million hole in the current biennial state budget?
Or: Why, if it’s OK to blame MaineCare for the current fiscal situation, isn’t it OK to blame those income-tax cuts you spearheaded back in 2011 without so much as a clue as to how Maine was going to pay for them?
Or: Why, for every day you thumb your nose at the Affordable Care Act, should we taxpayers lose $1 million in federal funds that could keep more Mainers healthy and, in the process, create some 2,000 well-paying health-care jobs statewide?
Say what, Big Guy? You can’t waste time on a dog-and-pony news conference when the MaineCare cannibals are already at the State House door, licking their chops at the sight of the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife?
Got it, sir. Maybe you should warn them you’re a zombie.
Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: