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Lockman: Preserve the safety net for the truly needy

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“Health care is a right, not a privilege.”

How often have people heard that simplistic slogan fall from the lips of liberal Democrat re-distributionists? Expect to hear it repeated ad nauseam between now and January, when Democrats in the Legislature will renew their push to grant free Medicaid coverage to tens of thousands of non-elderly, non-disabled Maine adults.

Liberals argue that another Medicaid expansion is smart public policy, because the hundreds of millions of dollars in additional costs will be paid for by the federal government. They are oblivious to the fact that the government in Washington is dead broke, and continues to borrow somewhere between 30 and 40 cents of every dollar it spends.

Democratic Speaker of the House Mark Eves insists that another expansion of this entitlement program is the “morally right thing to do,” as if we have a moral obligation to provide totally free medical care (no insurance premiums, no co-pays, no deductibles) to mostly single able-bodied males who smoke, drink to excess, and already have access to affordable health insurance coverage.

But as long as we’re going to lecture each other across the aisle about morality, perhaps Speaker Eves will see fit to address the issue of generational theft.

Congress is borrowing money from our grandchildren to finance the expansion of entitlement programs such as Medicaid, with unfunded liabilities in the tens of trillions of dollars. Eves needs to explain why our grandchildren should not regard us as thieves if we continue to pile these massive debts on their shoulders.

Here in Maine, we know what it means when liberal Democrats tell us that health care is a right, not a privilege.

It means that a healthy 28-year-old on Medicaid has a “right” to call an ambulance and go to the emergency room for a hangover, then hand the bill to his neighbors (and his neighbors’ grandchildren).

It means state and federal taxpayers are on the hook for $7 million annually to provide free transportation for young adults to the methadone clinics, while thousands of severely disabled and elderly Mainers languish on Medicaid waiting lists because funding is unavailable for in-home and community-based services.

The notion that we can count on the feds to finance another Medicaid expansion is an article of faith among liberal Democrat re-distributionists. But given the stupefying ineptitude of the Affordable Care Act launch on Oct. 1, why would anyone in their right mind want to lock Maine into another reckless, irresponsible expansion of this federal entitlement program?

Why are Maine Democrats so hell-bent on chaining us to the caboose of the Obamacare train wreck?

The answer to that question lies in what I call the nonprofit motive. Liberals never tire of denigrating the profit motive, but it’s clear their alphabet soup of poverty programs is most effective not in helping the poor but in creating permanent high-paying jobs for the liberal ruling class in government agencies and in the lucrative nonprofit sector.

[RELATED: Medicaid expansion means millions for House Speaker’s boss…]

Exhibit A here in Maine is Sweetser, a Saco-based nonprofit that receives tens of millions in Medicaid dollars from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. Sweetser’s annual budget is in excess of $50 million, more than half of which is derived from government grants. CEO Carlton Pendleton’s salary is nearly $300,000 a year, and Sweetser spends about $70,000 annually lobbying the Maine Legislature. Sweetser lobbied for the last expansion of Medicaid enrollment in 2002, after which the nonprofit saw an increase of 25 percent in Medicare- and Medicaid-related revenue.

Rep. Mark Eves served as Sweetser’s Business Development Director from October of 2011 until January of this year. During the 125th Legislature (2011-2012), Eves was the lead Democrat on the Legislature’s Health and Human Services committee, where he advocated single-mindedly to expand Medicaid enrollment. Eves is now reportedly on a leave of absence from Sweetser, but has doubled down on his legislative push to expand the welfare program that would increase the flow of Medicaid dollars to Sweetser.

[RELATED: Lawmakers spar over Speaker’s potential conflict of interest…]

His defenders insist there’s nothing to see here, move along, don’t be distracted by all this mean-spirited partisan sniping at the Speaker of the House. But I believe Maine voters and taxpayers can connect the dots.

As a freshman legislator, I am committed to preserving Maine’s social safety net for the truly needy, not the greedy. We can either make sure your 78-year-old widowed grandmother gets her medications and stays warm this winter, or we can turn the safety net into a hammock and pass the bill to our grandchildren.

Rep. Lawrence E. Lockman, R-Amherst, serves on the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee.

(A version of this op-ed originally appeared in the Lewiston Sun Journal)

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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