Commentary

Has Maine's safety net turned into a hammock?

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Rep. Lawrence Lockman, R-Amherst

I was surprised to read in a recent op-ed column by state Sen. Emily Cain (D-Orono) that federal dollars have been “set aside” to provide free medical care to an additional 70,000  Mainers under the ObamaCare Medicaid expansion.

How can that be?

Surely Sen. Cain is aware that the federal government is dead broke and $17 trillion in debt. In fact, more than a third of federal spending is now funded by borrowing the money, and passing the IOUs to our kids and grandkids. To put it bluntly, anyone who thinks the feds have set aside free money for Maine to expand medical welfare is playing a dangerous game of let’s pretend. Now more than ever, I believe it’s time for an adult conversation about what’s at stake in the debate over Medicaid expansion under ObamaCare.

Maine has a history with Medicaid expansion, and if we don’t learn from that history we are bound to repeat it.

The last time Maine expanded Medicaid enrollment was in 2002. Before the expansion, about 200,000 people qualified for Medicaid coverage. I would characterize them as Maine’s most vulnerable citizens: minor children in low-income households, and the elderly poor and disabled. By expanding coverage to able-bodied childless adults, enrollment grew from 200,000 individuals in 2002 to 338,000 in 2012. Compare that to neighboring New Hampshire at 160,000. Many of the new enrollees in Maine would not qualify for Medicaid benefits in most other states.

In any case, Medicaid spending as a percentage of state General Fund spending doubled in the past 15 years, crowding out funding for schools, roads, law enforcement, and other obligations of state government. Increased spending for this medical welfare program has blown holes in the state budget year after year for the past decade, forcing the Legislature to enact supplemental stop-gap budgets to staunch the bleeding. This year will be no exception, with a projected shortfall of at least $119 million, most of it the result of previous expansions.

Even if the feds keep their promise to pay 100% of the costs for the additional 70,000 new enrollees for the first three years, Maine taxpayers will be on the hook for hiring at least 93 new staffers at the Department of Health & Human Services to handle the increased caseload. Sen. Cain has not told us where she plans to get the $75 million per year in projected long-term costs to state government for the expanded enrollment.

And let’s be clear about the demographics of the estimated 70,000 new enrollees. These childless adults are about 60% male, 75% single, 60% under 45 years old, all under 65 years old, and all able-bodied. Frankly, the vast majority of these people don’t need more welfare. They need jobs. Unfortunately for them, decades of one-party liberal Democrat governance in Augusta have water-boarded Maine’s economy.

During John Baldacci’s eight years as Governor, with Democrat majorities in both house of the Legislature, Maine’s economy generated a net 56 new jobs. Instead of growing the private-sector job market, liberals have focused on growing the welfare state and a culture of entitlement.

It’s clear to me as a freshman legislator that liberals measure their success by the number of people who depend on government to meet their basic needs. Clearly, the continued expansion of welfare programs hasn’t reduced poverty, but it has created plenty of permanent high-paying jobs for the liberal ruling class in government and in the lucrative non-profit sector.

Meanwhile, we have 3,100 seriously disabled Maine people on wait lists for needed Medicaid services because funding is unavailable. Why in the world would we want to give more freebies to able-bodied young adults when thousands of Maine’s most vulnerable are going without the services they need?

I believe we have an obligation to preserve the safety net for the truly needy. With that objective in mind, I will be voting against another reckless, irresponsible expansion of medical welfare when the bill comes before the House of Representatives.

Legislators will have to choose between protecting Maine’s most vulnerable, or turning the safety net into a hammock.

We can choose to commit our limited resources to your 78 year-old widowed grandmother to make sure she gets needed services and stays warm this winter. Or we can choose to subsidize your tattooed 28 year-old able-bodied but unemployed nephew, and make sure he gets free medical care and a fully-charged EBT card.

Lawrence Lockman, R-Amherst, represents District 30 in the Maine House of Representatives. He serves on the Labor, Commerce, Research & Economic Development Committee.

About Steve Robinson

Steve Robinson is the former editor of The Maine Wire and currently producer for the Howie Carr Show. Follow him on Twitter @Stevie_Rob or send him an email at Steve@HowieCarrShow.com.

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