A bipartisan group of legislators deserves praise for drafting a budget that fills a $30 million shortfall while finding funds to reduce the number of elderly and disabled Mainers waiting for residential and home care services.
This was accomplished without any leadership from Gov. LePage, who petulantly refused to submit a budget this year and has indicated that he would probably veto this one. Lawmakers will have to work without his leadership if they are going to show that responsible government through compromise is still possible in Maine.
Another test, however, will likely come sooner, when the governor’s third veto of a MaineCare expansion bill comes up for an override vote.
The debate has devolved into partisan semantics over whether Maine-Care is “welfare” or “health insurance,” and if adults with incomes near the poverty line are “truly needy.” But the real question is whether lawmakers will defy the governor and act in the best interests of the state.
This bill is also a bipartisan compromise that moves a Republican policy initiative – using managed care to control MaineCare costs – along with a Democratic priority of using federal funds to cover as many as 70,000 Mainers who do not have health insurance.
Expanding MaineCare would attract $1 million a day in federal funds to pay 100 percent of the program until the end of 2016.
At that point the federal share would start to decline, never going below 90 percent. Under the compromise bill, Maine’s participation ends when the full federal support ends, requiring legislative action for the state to continue taking part.
The nonpartisan Office of Fiscal and Program Review determined that accepting the funds would have a net positive effect on the state budget, even when accounting for the administrative costs of managing the increased caseload. The governor counters with the highly partisan Alexander Report, written by an anti-Medicaid expansion activist.
The governor insists that covering more people by expanding MaineCare would divert resources from elderly and disabled Mainers who are currently not receiving all the services to which they are entitled. But that’s not true. The people on the waiting lists would lose nothing if the state expanded MaineCare, and they would gain nothing if it didn’t. The issues are linked only by his rhetoric.
And the governor claims that we can’t afford to expand MaineCare because it would result in huge unpaid hospital bills that would increase the cost of care for everyone else.
If this were true, the Maine Medical Association and the Maine Hospital Association would not be supporting the expansion. Leaving tens of thousands of people with no way to pay their hospital bills is much more likely to drive up costs throughout the health care system than expanding MaineCare.
The governor has decided that no bill is better than a compromise. Responsible lawmakers should reject that kind of leadership and vote to override this veto.