By Sen. Margaret Craven (D-Lewiston)
and Rep. Peggy Rotundo (D-Lewiston)
Recently lawmakers in Augusta passed a budget that resolves an immediate shortfall in the state’s health care program called MaineCare. MaineCare is a health care program that provides health insurance and prescription drug coverage for the elderly, disabled, mentally ill and the poor.
Seventy percent of enrollees are children, seniors or individuals with disabilities. MaineCare payments go to hospitals and health care providers to pay for care, not into the pockets of eligible individuals.
The budget that lawmakers passed rejects the worst of Governor Paul LePage’s irresponsible, illegal and dangerous proposals that have made headlines in the past four months. The budget also allows us to continue to preserve care for the elderly, disabled and children, while preventing drastic cuts to our local hospitals. These cuts would have shifted costs to municipalities and hospitals, caused job losses and resulted in increased insurance premiums for middle-class families across the state.
Local Democrats worked hard to mitigate the harm the governor’s original budget would have caused here in Lewiston. We worked with our hospitals and health care providers to present an alternative to the governor’s irresponsible proposal. If it were not for Democrats, 65,000 Maine people would no longer have health care on April 1.
Now, only 14,000 people will be transitioned off of health care during the next nine months. Thanks to President Obama and the Democrats in Congress, the Affordable Care Act will begin to provide health care for them in 2014.
The budget is not a Democratic proposal. Considering that Democrats don’t control the House, Senate or the governor’s office, we are proud that the final budget is far better than the irresponsible cuts the governor originally proposed. The budget will keep the lights on, pay health care workers and continue to provide access to health care for many who wouldn’t have it under the governor’s original proposal.
Thousands of jobs will be saved and care will continue for many of our neighbors because we worked with our local hospitals to restore some of the major cuts proposed by the governor.
Last year, St Mary’s and CMMC’s local medical practices had some 536,000 patient visits, and there were 83,000 visits to our emergency rooms in Lewiston. Because the hospitals accept MaineCare and Medicare, no one is turned away for inability to pay. Because of these programs, your income level won’t determine whether you get care and live, or die. That is the truth about Maine Care; it is not welfare, it’s basic health care.
The money spent locally on hospital care is pumped through the local economy. Combined, the hospitals employ more than 4,350 people, who care for our neighbors and purchase goods and services from local businesses.
A Lewiston City Council Resolve passed on February 7 called on legislators to work together to “address the MaineCare funding shortfall in a manner which minimizes negative impacts on the local health care providers, the private insurance market and the general assistance program.”
We are proud that our work resulted in exactly what the council asked. The governor’s proposal would have directly undermined the critical jobs that health care supports in our area. We fought against the cuts and found an alternative that works for everyone.
The budget shortfall we face was not caused by the people using the program or the people delivering health care services. Of the total shortfall, only 6.5 percent was caused by increases in enrollment. In fact, we know that the cost of the MaineCare program has largely been flat since 2006, growing only 8 percent over five years despite growing medical inflation. The truth is the LePage administration mismanaged its budget and under-budgeted its costs.
Democrats believe all Maine people should have access to affordable health care. Democrats don’t agree that taking health care away from Maine people who need it most will solve our budget problems. In reality, it will only shift the cost.
A recent column in Twin City TIMES by Lewiston Mayor Robert Macdonald inaccurately represented our records, as well as the facts surrounding the budget debate. MaineCare is a health care program that ensures that more people have access to affordable health care. People with low incomes, including seniors and parents working at low-wage jobs, cannot afford to lose their health coverage, and those on private coverage cannot afford to absorb the cost shift when more people seek emergency care.
We welcome an honest conversation with the mayor about how our efforts have saved hundreds of jobs in this community and helped provide care and improve health outcomes for our state. We are all working hard for Lewiston, and we shouldn’t allow partisanship to get in the way.