Commentary

State government-controlled healthcare system would raise costs, jeopardize access to quality care

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Mainers deserve access to high-quality health care with an affordable price tag. Following the events of the last two years, it’s more important than ever to ensure we’re meeting this goal. That’s why policymakers in Augusta should focus on what has been working for Mainers as they continue to work toward this objective. We should be building on the successes of our current healthcare system and making the necessary improvements to keep it working for our families and taxpayers. 

Legislation was introduced this session in Augusta that would create a new state government-controlled health care system by expanding MaineCare to all residents. LD 1608 would erase our current system and have serious consequences for Maine’s small businesses and taxpayers: higher taxes and medical costs, as well as reduced access to care.

Taxpayers in other states have rejected government-run health insurance systems for these exact reasons. In the latest example, California lawmakers scrapped proposed legislation prior to voting as public support disappeared. No surprise since that plan would have cost the state more than $220 billion. Many Mainers will recall Vermont’s failure to pass their single-payer system in 2019, which was also discarded due to cost. Governor Peter Shumlin conceded the effects of the plan “might hurt our economy.”

Despite a long list of failures, Washington State implemented a government-run “public option” in 2019. Coverage and analysis from experts over the last three years shows it has been a complete failure. In 2021, one percent of people purchasing health insurance on Washington’s public marketplace chose the government option—and it’s easy to see why. Washington taxpayers were promised reduced premiums by as much as 10 percent compared to existing plans. Rather, the public option plan’s premiums averaged 11 percent higher than each county’s most inexpensive silver plan. 

A government-run system will limit rural Mainers’ access to high-quality care, exacerbating existing difficulties of service access in those areas. In 2016, Maine Policy Institute (MPI) found that rural Mainers face some of the most expensive medical care in the state. Health care experts at Navigant found that as many as half of Maine’s rural hospitals could be at risk of closing due to the financial burdens of a state government-run system, a catastrophic loss to the families who depend on that care.

In 2017, as voters were weighing the decision to expand Medicaid (also known as Mainecare), MPI pointed out the expensive lessons learned from Medicaid expansion in 2002. Our analysis found that expansion did little besides drastically raise costs and divert limited resources away from the truly needy. This policy has proven to be unaffordable in the past and remains so today—especially at this scale.

It has been a remarkably tough few years for Maine businesses. Our small businesses, which make up over 99 percent of all businesses in the state, have had an especially tough time. Even after the pandemic, they’re still dealing with supply chain issues and battling inflation. It would be reckless to impose the consequences of a socialized health care system on our small businesses when the odds are already stacked against them. Maine’s economy depends on these businesses, and over a quarter-million Mainers depend on their employment to support their families.

We’ve worked together in the face of many difficulties, starting with the pandemic in 2020 and continuing into the hardships we’re seeing today. Maine families are already dealing with sky-high costs from worsening inflation in so many aspects of daily life. Let’s not add health care to the list. 

I urge lawmakers in Augusta to consider the consequences of a state government-controlled system. As we’ve seen in other states, the answer isn’t to start from scratch with a flawed system. Instead, let’s continue to improve the health care system that is working for Maine taxpayers so we can safeguard access and keep high-quality health care affordable in our state.

About Nick Murray

Nick Murray, of Cornish, currently serves as Policy Analyst with Maine Policy Institute, writing, researching, and bringing Mainers together over the issues facing the state. Previously, he served as Outreach Coordinator, planning events to spread the word about Maine Policy's work to new audiences around Maine.

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