March 1, 2013

Bill Nemitz: Gov. Christie, please phone your buddy in Maine

Dear Gov. Chris Christie,

I just watched this heartwarming video of an exchange you had at a town meeting in New Jersey the other night with a little second-grader named Audrey.

Audrey, as you know, has grandparents up here in Maine who apparently know our Gov. Paul LePage. And when he met her last summer, LePage gave Audrey a pair of gifts -- a photo and a coin -- for her to deliver to you.

"Governor LePage of Maine!" you exclaimed with genuine surprise. "He gave you gifts to give to me?"

"Yeah," replied Audrey.

"Yeah, he's crazy," you quipped as the crowd erupted in laughter. "I love Paul. He's great."

Which brings me to why I'm writing.

Gov. Christie, Maine needs your help.

We need you to call Gov. LePage -- Big Guy to Almost-As-Big Guy -- and knock a little sense into his head about this whole Medicaid expansion thing.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that you and I see the world differently in a lot of ways. But I've always considered you a pretty smart guy -- even if you are from New Jersey.

You reinforced that perception in a big way Tuesday when you announced you'd embrace the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act and add 300,000 New Jerseyans -- at no cost to your state -- to the Garden State's Medicaid rolls.

Why the turnaround by a governor who not long ago called "Obamacare" nothing less than government-sanctioned "extortion?" (At least until the U.S. Supreme Court said it wasn't.)

"It's simple," you explained in a speech to New Jersey's legislature. "We are putting people first."

Well, break out the Crayolas and color me impressed, Governor. You're not nearly as dumb as all those tea partiers wish you were.

I particularly like your reasoning: By refusing to expand Medicaid and thus forfeiting the guaranteed 100 percent federal funding through 2016 and at least 90 percent after 2020, you'd simply be letting those dollars get diverted to "New York, Connecticut, Ohio or somewhere else."

But not Maine, right Governor?

While you project $227 million in savings for next year alone by putting more of your citizens under the protective umbrella of quality health care, your buddy LePage continues to turn up his nose at an estimated $140 million a year in federal funding to cover upwards of 69,500 uninsured Mainers. Folks who will have no choice but to take whatever ails them to the nearest hospital emergency room.

"Expanding Medicaid is the smart thing to do for our fiscal and public health (and will) ensure New Jersey taxpayers will see their dollars maximized," you told your lawmakers.

I know, Gov. Christie, you're still no fan of the Affordable Care Act. But you at least had the good sense to acknowledge that it's "now the law of the land."

And hard-right ideology be damned, it was pure integrity talking when you promised to "make all my judgments as governor based on what's best for New Jersey."

Geez, Gov. Christie, have you ever considered an extended visit to Vacationland? Maybe while Gov. LePage is down in Jamaica tearing up the golf courses and sipping the umbrella drinks?

But back to that phone call to the Blaine House.

If you can swing it, loop in one or two of the seven other Republican governors who have seen the Medicaid light in recent days.

I'd suggest Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who really ticked off the tea partiers when he noted that, with the feds picking up 100 percent of the tab, "I cannot, in good conscience, deny Floridians the needed access to health care."

(Continued on page 2)

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