Remember the Maine’s Two Senators Who Let Us Down
Medicaid expansion nearly broke our state budget, yet Sens. Collins and King refuse to reform it.
By Governor Paul R. LePage.
When it comes to providing affordable health care to the people of Maine, Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King are worse than out of touch—they are downright dangerous. After Maine expanded Medicaid to childless adults in 2002 under then-Gov. King, the program nearly bankrupted our state. But now Ms. Collins and Mr. King are pushing to do it again by refusing to reform ObamaCare and prevent the future expansion of Medicaid.
Sadly, this is no surprise from senators who are more comfortable cutting deals in the polished marble corridors of Washington than meeting with Mainers struggling to make ends meet in Lewiston, Millinocket or Fort Kent. Ms. Collins is a Republican, but last week, unconscionably, she did not support her party’s effort to repeal ObamaCare. Mr. King claims to be an independent, but he votes exclusively with liberal Democrats and found preserving ObamaCare to be a no-brainer.
Mr. King also served as an “independent” governor of Maine, and when he departed in January 2003 he left a $1 billion structural budget gap for the next governor to deal with. After Mr. King’s successor was unable to close it, I took office in 2011 vowing to restore fiscal responsibility—and I did. Washing away the years of red ink meant getting the state’s Medicaid spending under control.
When it comes to expanding Medicaid, we have been there and done that. The results 15 years ago were disastrous. The state doubled the size of its Medicaid program, but this failed to reduce the uninsured rate, emergency-room visits or uncompensated care by hospitals. We were saddled with $750 million of Medicaid debt, and I spent my first two years as governor working to repay it.
By reforming Maine’s Medicaid and welfare programs, we directed resources toward the truly needy: elderly, disabled and extremely low-income Mainers. The Medicaid expansion now supported by Sens. Collins and King would open the program mostly to able-bodied people without children. These are not Maine’s most needy residents; providing them “free” health care is tantamount to giving them another welfare entitlement.
Maine’s Public Law 90, a state health-reform plan that I helped implement before it was voided by ObamaCare in 2012, can be a model for the nation. The law aimed to reduce costs by allowing Mainers to purchase health insurance across state lines and created a risk pool to cover people with pre-existing conditions.
Ms. Collins and Mr. King have ignored these ideas, since they are more interested in preening for the cameras than in making real progress. But I’ve repeatedly advised our congressional leaders about the key components of a successful health-care reform. First, any further Medicaid expansion under ObamaCare should be prohibited for the states that have declined it so far. Expansion would cost Maine $400 million to $500 million over the next five years, putting the state back into fiscal crisis.
Second, states should be given flexibility. The block grants outlined in the Senate’s original proposal would have moved Medicaid in the right direction, but still not far enough. Each state should have the autonomy to tailor its Medicaid program to suit the needs of its enrollees and taxpayers.
Third, states should be allowed to add work requirements, increase the frequency of eligibility determinations, and reduce retroactive eligibility from 90 days to 30. This would create greater accountability for Medicaid enrollees and ensure that recipients are invested in their own health care.
Given the opportunity last month to replace America’s failing health-care system with a more cost-effective plan, Sens. Collins and King instead chose to preserve the status quo while pushing an irresponsible Medicaid expansion here in Maine. Though they seem unwilling to deliver on their promises of better care, at least they have given Mainers a clear sense of their priorities.