NORTH BERWICK — Any good doctor would tell you that you can’t prescribe an effective treatment for a sick patient unless you have the correct diagnosis — and know the side effects.

You wouldn’t amputate a leg to fix a broken toe. And you shouldn’t solve a budget problem by creating a health care crisis.

Make no mistake, the governor’s proposed plan to throw more than 65,000 Maine people off MaineCare, the state Medicaid program, to fill a projected $220 million hole in the budget will only exacerbate a health care crisis in our state.

Access to care will decrease, small prevention costs will balloon into high emergency room costs, and the private insurance holder will be left with the bill. Too many of us are already finding it more and more difficult to afford health care coverage.

A better solution starts with getting the correct diagnosis of the problem. According to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, 5 percent of the MaineCare population is responsible for 55 percent of the cost. A more reasonable solution would begin with more efficiently managing care for the small population that drives up the cost.

If we throw more than 65,000 people off their health care, the domino effect will be immediate. The costs will be shifted to our local hospitals, towns and cities, and then in turn to private health insurance holders and taxpayers, raising the cost of care for everyone.

The proposed cuts will also result in the closure of assisted-living facilities across the state, potentially making more than 5,000 Mainers — including the elderly, disabled and veterans — homeless.

Last month I listened to hundreds of Maine people testify against the governor’s harmful proposal. One after the other, seniors, single mothers, veterans, clergy, doctors and economists had the same message for lawmakers: These health care cuts will cause more harm than good.

We heard that MaineCare helps people stay healthy and alive. It pays for the cost of care for 75 percent of all seniors in nursing facilities in Maine. It ensures that children get their immunizations and regular checkups. But the governor’s “shock” treatment puts that in jeopardy. It also comes with some very serious economic and legal side effects.

The health care industry is a major economic engine and source of jobs in Maine. Health care jobs account for approximately one in four private-sector jobs across the state. According to the Maine Center for Economic Policy, LePage’s cuts will result in 4,400 job losses across the state.

The LePage administration would also need to receive three unprecedented waivers from federal law to reduce or eliminate MaineCare services for certain populations. To date, no state has received permission from the federal government to ignore the law under these circumstances.

So, as lawmakers begin to address the budget shortfall in the Department of Health and Human Services, we must not rush to prescribe a treatment. The process may be frustrating for the governor, but lawmakers have a responsibility and obligation to correctly diagnose the problem. We have rightly asked extensive questions to the LePage administration about why this shortfall has occurred.

While the governor has said the deficit was caused by increased enrollment in MaineCare, the department’s analysis tells a different story.

MaineCare enrollment has grown by just over 2 percent in the past 11 months, accounting for a small amount of the shortfall. The department’s own official analysis shows that the shortfall was partially caused by errors and faulty assumptions made when the biennial budget was put together earlier this year.

This week, members of the Legislature’s Appropriations and Health and Human Services committees will renew our work to assess which parts of the shortfall are caused by ongoing versus one-time costs. Once we know these costs, we can begin to formulate our solution. It should start by examining the real cost-drivers.

Democrats would like to work with our Republican colleagues to balance the budget with a thoughtful approach that is based on facts, not political ideology.

MaineCare provides vital health care services for struggling families, the elderly, the disabled and the working poor. If we don’t correctly diagnose and treat the problem, many lives will be on the line.

— Special to The Press Herald