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Rep. Joyce Fitzpatrick (R-Houlton)
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For Immediate Release

Date: 08/07/12

Rep. Pingree sabotaging state on MaineCare waivers

By Rep. Joyce Fitzpatrick

In early July, Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree wrote to the Obama administration, basically requesting that the federal government prevent Maine from implementing medical welfare reforms that were approved by the Legislature.

Representative Pingree, from Maine's 1st District, would no doubt like to credit herself and Obamacare for improving Maine's health insurance situation. However, it is important to remember that Maine's citizen-legislators, not Washington bureaucrats, are responsible for the ongoing improvements in our health insurance market.

Maine has made strong progress towards a more rational and affordable insurance system in the past year, since implementing reforms to both health insurance laws and the state's Medicaid program, known as MaineCare. Our approach was anything but radical; it merely moved Maine closer to the American mainstream.

The Legislature and the people of Maine know that our state faces a Medicaid crisis and skyrocketing health care costs. We took action to make private health insurance more affordable in the individual and small group markets so Maine residents can work themselves off medical welfare, and the taxpayers, in turn, can get a break from annual budget-busting Medicaid costs.

An independent analytical firm, Gorman Actuarial LLC, has projected that Maine's insurance reform will reduce premiums by 15 percent and probably by more in the future. However, a new insurance program from Anthem, which went into effect July 1, drops individual rates by as much as 52 percent for people in the 19 to 24 age group and by about 30 percent for policyholders over 60.

These dramatic decreases are a direct result of the Legislature's reforms, particularly the establishment of the Maine Guaranteed Access Reinsurance Association, which helps pay the health care costs for people with serious or chronic conditions.

Our Medicaid crisis was brought on by years of neglect and patchwork solutions to budget overruns, such as not paying hospitals for MaineCare services. These "solutions" never got to the core of the problem. Costs per person run 90 percent above the national Medicaid average. MaineCare enrollment more than doubled from 154,000 in 1998 to some 360,000 in 2011, and the climb was steady through good times and bad. Today's high enrollment is not a result of the recession. The program will cost well over $2 billion this year.

In 2011, the state sought to reduce enrollment to a somewhat more sustainable 308,000, which would still be far above the national average state enrollment, per capita. Among those slated to be dropped from MaineCare in October are people aged 19 and 20. Additionally, the state is phasing out coverage of so-called "non-cats," childless adults who do not fit into any normal Medicaid category. No new non-cats will be accepted into the program.

Now Obamacare seeks to undo the bipartisan work of the Maine Legislature by freezing us in place at the high-water mark for Medicaid enrollment. States that were much stricter about enrollment eligibility - and thus have much lower costs - are frozen at those lower rates. Rep. Pingree would have us maintain the disadvantage of unnecessarily high costs.

Obamacare sets up a clash of the federal government's national policy of expensive welfare-based solutions and Maine's recent strides in providing affordable and sustainable health care coverage. Rep. Pingree's letter to the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services exemplifies this clash.

It is not surprising that she would disagree with the policy of reducing the size of our welfare state. She is, after all, a leading member of the congressional Progressive Caucus. But it is unacceptable for her to specifically request that the federal government ignore Maine's duly elected representatives and a duly enacted and constitutional Maine law.

A congressperson's role is to represent the people of Maine and shape federal policy, not single-handedly blunt the will of their home state Legislature, the people charged with the governance of the state. But this is reflective of Obamacare as a whole. Such clashes between state and federal interests will become more common as this law is implemented.

Rep. Pingree would like the federal government to force Maine to maintain its recklessly high Medicaid spending, which is already cannibalizing other vital state programs. Our citizen Legislature, instead, chose to keep the Medicaid program sustainable and preserve it for current and future generations.

Many other states, California in particular, are close to fiscal disaster, even with lower percentages of Medicaid enrollment. If Maine lawmakers continue to have their way, Medicaid will be there for those who need it long into the future. If Rep. Pingree gets her way, Maine will face the same budget problems as the federal government.

Obamacare will do little to help Maine and much to harm it. The law will tie up the state legislative process and weigh on state programs, making it harder for lawmakers to work to provide access to affordable healthcare, free of excessive government bureaucracy. ###

State Rep. Joyce Fitzpatrick (R-Houlton) serves on the Insurance and Financial Services Committee

Jay Finegan
Maine House Republicans
Tel: (207) 287-1445