Critical health care vote coming in November election

By Tom Seymour | Oct 20, 2017

It used to be so simple. Once, most working people could afford health insurance. And hospital costs were reasonable enough that the uninsured, those who paid out-of-pocket, were not financially strapped for the rest of their life.

A visit to the doctor’s office cost less than a half-day’s pay, so healthy young people who didn’t feel compelled to buy insurance were able to pay their way without incurring a financial burden. Major or catastrophic illnesses were something different, of course. And that’s why as youth turned to middle age, people sought health insurance.

That has all changed. Prices have soared, both for medical treatment and for health insurance. Part of the blame lies at the feet of the federal government. Here’s one small example. Mandated record-keeping now takes up a considerable percentage of a doctor’s time. Complex rules require physicians to spend as much time doing paperwork as they do treating patients. Some physicians have shuttered their doors and taken early retirement rather than waste so much time on needless paperwork.

And then we have the sue-crazy component of society. Lawsuits, some legitimate and some frivolous, have raised the cost of insurance that health care professionals must pay. This cost is, in turn, passed on to the consumer.

The above pertains to the situation nationwide. But Maine has its own share of artificially induced problems, problems that in the end are posed to bilk taxpayers out of even more money.

Medicaid

Then-Gov. Angus King expanded Medicaid coverage in 2002. This left the state of Maine with a $750 million debt to hospitals. Additionally, nursing homes experienced low reimbursement rates and, as a consequence, those who genuinely needed assistance were unable to avail themselves of it. That’s because funds that were supposed to go to nursing homes were redirected to paying the then-massive Medicaid debt. The problem wasn’t solved until Gov. Paul LePage repaid the debt to hospitals. This he did without increasing taxes.

In Maine, one-third of state spending and almost one-quarter of the General Fund is dedicated to honoring Medicaid expenses. Gov. LePage’s strategy for setting Medicaid costs aright included removing the majority of able-bodied adults from Medicaid rolls.

But instead of simply taking healthy young people off of Medicaid, LePage also went to lengths to entice these individuals to work, and thus contribute to their own health care costs.

The governor’s fix has put Medicaid on a solid footing in Maine. Were it not for this conservative Republican’s efforts, the Medicaid problem would have become even worse and Maine would have ventured deeper into the red.

But something else now menaces Maine’s newfound financial stability. A referendum question, initiated by Maine People’s Alliance, a group that Gov. LePage rightly terms “socialists,” has succeeded in becoming a line item on the November ballot. The goal is to mandate that everyone who cannot afford to buy health insurance be provided with free insurance through a huge expansion of Medicaid.

The Maine People’s Alliance is no stranger to Maine voters. Its past efforts include attempting to tax successful working people and an attempt to take tips away from servers in Maine restaurants.

And now the Maine People’s Alliance is at it again, with its Question 2, which, if passed, would give “free” health care to able-bodied individuals. And who would foot the bill? The taxpayers, of course. That’s because nothing is really free.

But for those healthy people who would benefit from the unwilling “contributions” of working people, the source of the funding makes little difference.

You might think that a healthy person would feel some degree of embarrassment in even applying for this form of welfare. But those who are able to work but choose not to, who instead rely upon government largesse, have no qualms about accepting all the benefits the government offers.

So now it’s up to the taxpayers. Expanding Medicaid to those working people who, through no fault of their own, cannot afford health insurance, is one thing, and Maine People’s Alliance highlights this. But the group fails to note that its bill would also give healthy non-working people free insurance.

Part of the problem lies in Sens. Collins and King’s voting against reforming Obamacare. Had that measure passed, Maine would have enjoyed a 43-percent funding increase and that would have allowed the state to spend more on Medicaid if necessary. But thanks to our two liberal senators, the measure failed and now Mainers are spending even more on health care, with no relief in sight.

Maine taxpayers cannot afford to have more bucks lifted from their already thin wallets to pay for non-working, able-bodied people’s health insurance. So bear this in mind come November. To paraphrase the most interesting man in the world, “vote wisely, my friends.”

Tom Seymour is a freelance magazine and newspaper writer, book author, naturalist and forager. He lives in Waldo.

 

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