September 18, 2013

In crossfire on MaineCare, parties vie for political edge

At stake is access to government-funded health coverage for more than 60,000 low-income Mainers.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
State House Bureau

(Continued from page 1)

MaineCare is likely to be a campaign issue in 2014.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud has referred to expansion several times, including at his campaign launch in August, when he criticized LePage for vetoing the compromise expansion bill, which would have extended coverage to 3,000 veterans, among others.

"I wish that (LePage) had fought half as hard for (veterans) as they have fought for us," Michaud said.

Independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler weighed in on the issue Tuesday, saying LePage distorted the Michigan study on Medicaid expansion.

"For the governor to call this welfare, and to take facts from the study published in the Annals of Family Medicine out of context to support this point, is an affront to our most needy citizens," Cutler said in a prepared statement.

Jim Melcher, a political science professor at the University of Maine in Farmington, said the MaineCare debate is a logical campaign issue. He said LePage's statement Monday clearly framed the governor's position and that of his base of supporters.

"He got to what I think is a sense among some conservatives that some people aren't worthy of getting government help with health care, (that) it's not a human right," Melcher said. "Democrats are coming at it as health care is a right, something provided to everybody.

"It's a very legitimate issue," Melcher said. "Campaign issues are ideally about how you value what government should do or how well it's doing it. (Medicaid expansion) offers a very clear choice."

In the background of the ideological debate rages a battle over the minutiae of messaging.

Democrats, in making their case for expansion, have steered clear of calling MaineCare "welfare," arguing that Republicans have made the term pejorative.

Meanwhile, Republican operatives such as Fredette's communications director, David Sorensen, are using "welfare" as often as possible.

In a recent media statement, Sorensen wrote that Democrats "don't want to be the party of expanding welfare. But that's what (Medicaid) is, and that's what they (Democrats) are."

On Tuesday, LePage's communications office sent a media statement that used "welfare" 14 times.

"We just paid a half-a-billion dollars in welfare debt to Maine's community hospitals, and now Democrats want to start racking up more welfare debt by expanding Medicaid to people who have other options for affordable health care," LePage said in the statement.

Medicaid expansion is already a campaign issue in states such as South Carolina and Virginia. In Ohio, advocates are trying to advance expansion through a ballot initiative.

Several Republican governors have agreed to expansion, but others, like LePage, remain opposed.

Correction: This has been updated to correct the income threshold for childless adults eligible for Medicaid coverage.

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at:

smistler@pressherald.com

Twitter: @stevemistler

 

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