Monday, December 9, 2013
Maine's campaign to reverse progress in health reform entered a new phase this week, when state Attorney General William Schneider filed suit in federal court, seeking to speed up the federal decision-making process on a state plan to eliminate health coverage for 33,000 people.
It is a strange spending choice for a state that is supposed to have trouble balancing its budget: Federal law gives the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 90 days to respond to changes in state Medicaid plans, and Maine just sent in its request on Aug. 1. And the state has little reason to believe it will be the first in the nation to get permission to deny coverage to people from an agency that is trying to extend it.
That makes this look like a blatant political stunt, registering Maine Republicans' disapproval of the Affordable Care Act, which requires all states to extend Medicaid to the level already in place in Maine. This is not the first time Maine officials have used the courts to make an empty gesture: Schneider joined in an already up-and-running lawsuit that was headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and would have been even without Maine's participation. If the court had found the law to be unconstitutional, it would have been just as struck down in the states that never signed on as it would have been in any of the states that did.
The federal government's opposition to a state dumping people off health insurance was well known when the governor and Legislature chose to use these cuts as a way to balance the budget. They could have waited before spending the "savings" they anticipated from the health care cuts until they were sure they were going to get them. They could have anticipated that the federal agency was not going to break its own rules and rewrite the laws just because some in Maine found them to be inconvenient.
This lawsuit is probably just the first step in Maine's attempt to get out from under federal requirements to expand health coverage. Why that is a better use of state resources than programs to make health care more accessible and affordable for Mainers will be a good question for voters in November.