Sunday, March 9, 2014
Gov. LePage did not waste any time vetoing a bill that would pump hundreds of millions of dollars into Maine’s economy through payments of mostly federal money to the state’s 39 nonprofit hospitals.
Gov. LePage is so staunchly opposed to accepting federal funds for expanding MaineCare coverage that he’s willing to reject his own top priority – paying off Maine’s hospital debt – in order to make a purely ideological point.
Republicans in the Legislature should take their time before they decide what to do.
They should ask themselves a hard question: Whether backing the governor this time would really be good for the state.
At issue is about $180 million in state funds to be raised from a renegotiated liquor contract, unlocking federal matching funds to deliver about $500 million to the hospitals to pay for services rendered to MaineCare patients in the past. In addition, the bill would expand eligibility criteria for Maine-Care so that about 70,000 working poor Mainers would be covered under the federal Affordable Care Act. The federal government would pay 100 percent of the program for the first three years and then no less than 90 percent after that.
Gov. LePage would sign the bill if it were just about paying off the old debt – it was, after all, a proposal he made the centerpiece of his legislative agenda. But he is so violently opposed to the Affordable Care Act that he is ready to reject his own top priority to win on a purely ideological point.
Republican lawmakers should be asking themselves if this is a wise way to move forward.
They should put aside the governor’s rhetoric that MaineCare is “welfare.” It is not. The money spent by the federal government won’t go to the newly eligible patients, but to doctors and hospitals that hire nurses, janitors, food service workers, construction crews and others who need jobs in what’s still a tough economy. The governor makes the case that paying off the state’s debt would stimulate the economy – well, so would providing health care to more people.
They should also put aside the cherry-picked data that suggests that previous Medicaid expansions busted the state’s budget and did not lower the number of uninsured Mainers. They ignore the Great Recession, in which people lost their jobs and their insurance adding to the MaineCare rolls. They also ignore the difference between a 60 percent federal match in the previous expansion and 100 percent federal subsidy.
And they should consider whether it’s fair for Maine residents to pay federal income taxes that will go to pay for health care for the residents of other states. Gov. LePage’s refusal to participate won’t make the program go away, it only hurts Maine.
The bill did not come to the governor in the form that he or any Republican lawmaker wanted, but that’s the way things work in a democracy. The people of Maine elected Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, and that means that everyone has to compromise if they want to accomplish anything.
Lawmakers of both parties should come together and agree that now is not the time to fight ideological battles. Even if they oppose MaineCare expansion, they have to a agree that a bill that does too much is better than no bill at all.
Gov. LePage has marched his troops up to a cliff. Republicans do not have to follow him over the edge.