By Governor Paul LePage
When I released details last week about the Dept. of Health and Human Services supplemental budget, I knew it was going to be difficult news to share with Mainers. These were not easy decisions to make but they were necessary.
In the last decade, the Democrats’ solution to affordable health care insurance was to transition people to Medicaid. This solution was shortsighted; it hurt people who need insurance coverage the most; it forced all Mainers to pay for much costlier health insurance premiums; and it increased taxes.
The original intent of Medicaid has been lost. Medicaid is no longer a quality safety net for our most vulnerable: seniors, disabled and children. During the past decade it has expanded to cover healthy young adults and others to the point that quality of access has declined.
Additionally, enrollment in the program has skyrocketed, putting more strain than ever on the state budget. Medicaid spending has increased by $1 billion in the last decade, and the program now accounts for 32% of the state budget.
What I have proposed brings us closer to what the overwhelming majority of other states consider reasonable use of Medicaid dollars. Other states have, on average, 20% of their population on Medicaid. Maine has 28% of our population—that’s more than 361,000 people on Medicaid.
This proposal does not bring the number of enrollees to the national average. Instead, it keeps enrollment 15% above the national average, which is a reflection that we have an older population in Maine.
Democrats have run state government for a very long time, and they have known that the increased spending in Medicaid was unsustainable. Yet they failed to provide responsible solutions to rein in out of control Medicaid spending.
Let me be clear: Any proposal that includes across-the-board cuts to our teachers, police officers, forest rangers and plow truck drivers is irresponsible. Nor will I support shifting the burden onto our hardworking taxpayers.
Medicaid has expanded so much that other state agency budgets have been cannibalized to pay for it. Across-the-board cuts will result in the elimination of hundreds of state programs that will affect all Mainers.
Elected officials are charged with making tough choices, and our actions to reform Medicaid are exactly that. I regret to have to make these decisions. But they are decisions that have to be made because of the economic circumstances we’re faced with.
Unlike Washington, Maine is not able to kick the can down the road and ignore our fiscal obligations. Federal funds have dried up. We are no longer receiving hundreds of millions of dollars of one-time federal stimulus money to cover the expanded Medicaid program. Even today, money marked for fourth quarter of this fiscal year is currently being spent on Maine’s Medicaid program.
We have an immediate crisis on our hands. If the Legislature does not address this, DHHS will run out of money on April 1, and we will be unable to pay any Medicaid bills.
There is value in Maine’s Medicaid program—as a quality safety net. But it has become a standard for too many.
I know first-hand the benefit of being given a helping hand in life, but I also have seen the damage that dependency on our welfare system has caused. Because policy makers have expanded government aid to so many, there is a growing entitlement mentality among too many people. But we should be encouraging them to strive toward self-sufficiency.
It’s not easy to say that Mainers will be affected by these changes and these are truly tough decisions. However, Medicaid isn’t a solution to provide affordable health care insurance for everyone. I want to protect and preserve services for Maine’s most vulnerable.
In an effort to find a real solution, Democrats and Republicans will have to come together, put the political bickering aside, stop worrying about winning the next election and do what’s best for the people of Maine. We must reshape Medicaid back to what it was meant to be: a true quality safety net for our seniors, disabled and children.