Maine has failed many of its residents.
We’ve cut teachers from schools with children who need them.
We’ve cut back on health care when people are sick.
And we’ve made impossible choices to balance state and local budgets during times of recession and hardship.
Today, things are a little different.
Our state is facing massive cuts in health care and education, and increases in property taxes, not because resources are scarce.
Instead, we’re facing these tough decisions because Gov. Paul LePage and his political allies have prioritized tax cuts, which largely benefited the wealthy, ahead of other things, including education, public health and safety.
Right now, Maine has an opportunity to improve access to health care in the state by accepting federal funding to provide insurance to nearly 70,000 people, many of whom have jobs but can’t afford coverage.
The governor has displayed an ever-changing rationale for turning these federal dollars down, including that he’s negotiating with the federal government (no evidence that he is or has), that it will cost Maine money (nonpartisan study says Maine will save $690 million over 10 years) and that it’s welfare (access to health care isn’t a handout, it’s a hand up).
The latest reason is the most hurtful and disingenuous so far.
“I will not entertain any discussions about welfare expansion until these 3,100 disabled and elderly Mainers are taken care of,” the governor said in a press release. “The Legislature has ignored the needs of these citizens for years, but now the Democrats want to expand welfare to able-bodied adults with no children. Not only is that bad public policy, it’s a disgrace.”
While the governor has not discussed in detail exactly whom he’s talking about, and it’s hard to verify his numbers, there are a number of individuals on waiting lists who are desperate for services.
The fact that they are forced to wait is a disgrace.
According to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, there are 830 people on the waitlist for a Section 21 waiver, which provides home, community and work support for people with intellectual disabilities or autistic disorders
There are another 493 people on a waitlist for Section 29 waiver services. The program supports adults with intellectual disabilities or autistic disorders who either live with their families or on their own. The program is also designed to support members in the workplace.
Section 29 serves many of the same people covered by Section 21. In fact, as of May, of the 830 on the Section 21 waitlist, 459 are receiving services through Section 29.
There are other state funding programs that also have waitlists, including homemaker services.
I agree with the governor that Maine has an obligation to help people suffering from serious disabilities.
Members of the waitlist generally receive health care coverage through Medicaid, but those on the waitlist aren’t getting additional services that they need.
We should stand up and stand with these families, but that doesn’t mean that we should then turn our back on other people who also need assistance.
It’s a false choice, meant to pit one group of people against others. It’s divisive; it’s ugly; and it’s unnecessary.
The waiting lists have nothing to do with whether or not Maine should accept federal funding to provide health insurance to almost 70,000 people.
For the first three years, the federal government would pay 100 percent of the cost for the expansion and then slowly ramp that funding down to 90 percent over several years.
It’s a good deal that would save lives and provide more security to men and women who are working hard and playing by the rules but are unable to afford insurance.
While the governor seems to have found religion on waitlists, that concern may have been sparked by a lawsuit.
Earlier this year, several people who are on the waitlists filed a lawsuit against LePage and the Department of Health and Human Services for failing to provide services mandated under Medicaid.
In reaction, the governor has included increased resources for the waitlist in his budget. Even so, the additional funding won’t solve all the problems with the waitlist, and the governor has proposed no substantive solution to the waitlist problems.
In the same budget, unfortunately, the governor’s budget also includes dangerous cuts to programs that help seniors and adults with disabilities afford their medication. And he’s drawn a line in the shifting sands on expanding health care to others.
With one hand, he gives. With the other, he takes. Apparently, it is the governor – and the governor alone – who decides whom we help and whom we don’t.
There’s no question we should address waiting lists for people with severe disabilities, but the answer isn’t to force others to go without health insurance unnecessarily.