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Top Republicans say broken Obamacare promises show Medicaid expansion is a bad deal

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obama downcast

AUGUSTA – Top Republicans said Tuesday that problems with President Obama’s signature health care law show the federal government’s promise to fund a proposed Medicaid expansion can’t be trusted.

Expanding eligibility for Medicaid, a medical welfare program, is a central component of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. Legislation that would have expanded the welfare program failed to become law during the most recent session of the Legislature, but Speaker of the House Mark Eves (D-North Berwick) has introduced a similar bill to be considered come January.

Key to Democrats’ pro-expansion case is the federal government’s promise to pay for at least 90 percent of the cost. Throughout the first attempt to secure an expansion of the program, Democrats insisted the deal was too good to pass up and would be an economic boon for the state. But Republicans doubt the feds can keep their promise to pay for the majority of expansion’s costs.

“Infinite federal funding for welfare expansion is a big promise, just like the President’s promise to Americans that if they like their plans, they can keep them,” said House Minority Leader Ken Fredette (R-Newport).  “We all know how that turned out.”

Fredette’s comment refers to a promise Obama made while campaigning for Obamacare that people who liked their insurance plans could keep their insurance plans. That claim is now incontestably false, a fact acknowledged by even liberal commentators in the media.

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In Maine, more than ten thousand individuals have received plan cancellation letters or had their plans modified due to Obamacare.

“The federal government is facing a debt of $17 trillion and growing, and has repeatedly shown its inability to work together, get things done, and keep its promises,” said Fredette. “The feds’ welfare expansion promise is already unaffordable for Maine taxpayers as it stands, and one can only imagine how costly it would be if that promise is also broken.”

While Democrats have quickly dismissed the suggestion that the federal government might renege on its cost-sharing pledge, President Obama has openly considered the idea multiple times.

During the “super committee” deficit-reduction talks in 2011, Obama proposed reducing federal funding for Medicaid expansion by $100 billion over ten years, leaving states to pick up the difference.

The president’s official budget for fiscal year 2013 also proposed changes to Medicaid funding rates that would have increased the cost to states.

The proposed $18 billion reduction over ten years would, in the words of two Republican members of Congress, “have a dramatic effect on how much a Medicaid expansion could cost State governments after 2014.”

But even if the federal government eschews Obama’s Medicaid cutting proposals and manages to keep its funding promise, Republican lawmakers still say Medicaid expansion is a bad deal.

Assistant House Minority Leader Alex Willette (R-Mapleton) said Maine’s prior experience expanding Medicaid is another reason he won’t support the proposal.

“Maine expanded medical welfare years ago and since then, the feds have reduced their share of the cost while denying us the flexibility to control costs to Maine taxpayers,” he said.

Assuming Uncle Sam can keep his promise, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services estimates that expanding Medicaid pursuant to Obamacare will cost Maine taxpayers $150 million per budget at the promised funding rate of 90 percent. DHHS estimates the cost at $70 million in 2016-2017 and $102 million in 2018-2019.

State Democrats have shied away from talking about costs and are instead using veterans as a reason to advance their policy.

In countless press releases, opinion editorials, and public statements, Democratic lawmakers have said the proposed expansion of Medcaid will give health care coverage to 70,000 Maine people, “including nearly 3,000 veterans.”

The figure the Democrats have just recently started invoking comes from a March 2013 Urban Institute report.

The report is based on American Community Survey data from 2008-2010.

According to the report, there are 414,000 uninsured veterans nationwide that could become eligible for medical welfare under Medicaid expansion.

There are an estimated 2,700 uninsured veterans in Maine living at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty line who would therefore be eligible for Medicaid under expansion, according to the report.

The report does not say why these individuals do not receive health benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Steve Robinson
Maine Wire Reporter
SERobinson@themainewire.com

About Steve Robinson

Steve Robinson the editor of The Maine Wire. A native of Dexter, Maine, Robinson is a graduate of Bowdoin College.

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