Sunday, March 9, 2014
… reform our unaffordable Medicaid program, called MaineCare.
Many years of overspending on our huge and overly generous Medicaid program continues to hemorrhage our state government budget. In past years, rather than right-size this rapidly growing program, our elected officials injected hundreds of millions of federal “stimulus” dollars to further expand enrollment. They chose not to fully pay Maine hospitals for services provided to enrollees to avoid downsizing the increasingly unaffordable Medicaid program.
Washington stimulus money has dried up. Our 39 hospitals have been laying-off employees, in part, because of the $484 million they are owed by Augusta. Governor LePage and the Legislature are struggling to close a projected $800 million hole in the next two-year budget from mid-2013 through mid-2015. Government overspending has put Maine taxpayers in a box.
MaineCare was originally created to provide a health care safety net for our most disabled and elderly, and the working poor. However, during the past decade, Augusta’s strategy has been to include as many residents as possible “because the federal government pays most of the cost.”
The graph below shows the increase in Medicaid enrollment from 202,000 in 2002 to 341,000 today – 27% of our entire population. MaineCare enrollment has surged 69% while our population has inched ahead only 3%!
Unlike in most other states, in Maine, childless adults and able-bodied 19 and 20 year-olds qualify for Medicaid. Services provided in Maine but not required by the federal government include chiropractic, dental, occupational and physical therapy, and podiatry care. Some of our most vulnerable families do not receive badly needed health care because the MaineCare dollars are spread so thin among so many citizens, including middle-income households.
Washington is flat broke -- $16 trillion in debt and borrowing or printing 42 cents of every dollar it spends. That means fewer federal tax dollars will likely flow to Maine to help fund Augusta’s overspending. A few years ago, the feds paid roughly 75% of the cost of MaineCare benefits. Today, they pay 63% and falling. As a result, this behemoth program now consumes 21% of all state tax revenues and is crowding out the funding for other essential services like public education and road and bridge repair.
To make matters worse, Washington is preventing us from bringing our Medicaid program in line with those of other states. That’s because Augusta accepted a boatload of federal stimulus money to pay MaineCare benefits, and because the program has enrolled so many middle-income families. Maine taxpayers are now mostly stuck with a huge and expensive entitlement program that we increasingly cannot afford. So much for common sense and fiscal discipline.
Rather than end the overspending, the Maine Legislature is currently considering raising your taxes as a way out of the financial mess they created.
It won’t work. Taking more money out of the pockets of our hard-working families only hurts them as they struggle through the worst recession in 70 years. There’s not enough money that can reasonably be taxed from our already heavily taxed, low-wage citizens. There’s not enough wealth left in Maine that can be taxed to bail out Augusta’s many years of overspending. Increasing the already smothering tax burden in Maine will further drive business investment and jobs out of state, making a difficult situation worse.
The people of Maine are counting on our elected officials to put politics aside, work together, and do what is right to fix the mess they themselves created – not kick the fiscal can down the street any longer. The good and honest people of Maine deserve it, and we’re watching.
Bruce Poliquin is the former Maine State Treasurer and a 2012 Republican primary candidate for the United States Senate. He has 35 years of experience owning and managing businesses. Bruce is a proud third-generation Franco-American Mainer and Harvard University graduate. Visit BrucePoliquin.net for his most recent commentary and analysis on media outlets throughout the State about the important issues facing Maine families and their jobs.