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The below column was published in the Lewiston Sun Journal.

Michael Thibodeau, Garrett Mason: Obamacare rollout doesn't inspire confidence in Medicaid expansion

 

Those who liked the rollout of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), are going to love the federal government’s offer to Maine to expand its Medicaid welfare program. And if you’ve been paying any attention to the Obamacare launch, there’s not much to like so far.

These two topics, Obamacare and Medicaid expansion, have dominated the headlines here in Maine recently, and many people assume there's no connection between the two.

There is. In fact they are one and the same.

As a matter of fact, Medicaid (which is actually welfare) expansion is one of the main components of Obamacare. With the goal of providing universal coverage to all Americans, the Affordable Care Act gives individual states incentives to increase the number of people who are eligible for Medicaid (in Maine, the Medicaid program is called “MaineCare”). The offer from the feds is to pay for 100 percent of Maine’s MaineCare expansion for the first three years. After that, the state of Maine starts picking up a big part of the tab.

 

Obamacare has come with a lot of promises that have not been kept. The most noteworthy one came from President Barack Obama, himself, who is on record dozens of times proclaiming, “If you like your health insurance plan, you can keep it.” We all now know that’s untrue, as millions of Americans, including tens of thousands here in Maine, have been notified that their insurance policies have been cancelled because they don’t conform to requirements of the ACA.

We were also told that when the ACA health care exchanges went online back in October, Americans would, for the first time, be able to sign up for affordable health insurance. The website has been plagued with problems since it first went online and the troubles continue to this day.

According to media reports, less than 2 percent of the 7 million Americans the federal government expected to sign up in the first month of Obamacare were able to do so. The administration set a self-imposed deadline of the end of November to have the site functioning properly, but problems remain.

Many of those who have been able to successfully navigate the labyrinth that is Obamacare have gotten sticker shock upon discovering how much their new plans were going to cost.

In addition to the inaccessibility issues, there are also increasing concerns about whether the personal information consumers load into the ACA website is secure.

Public approval of Obamacare remains low, with more than half of Americans opposing the law.

All of this brings us back to the issue of what we should refer to as the “Obamacare Medicaid welfare expansion” in Maine. During the past legislative session, Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bill that would have provided “free” health insurance to 70,000 able-bodied Mainers. The Legislature upheld that veto.

But now Democratic leadership is vowing to bring Medicaid expansion back for a vote during the upcoming session that begins in January.

While it is unfortunate that we will have to waste taxpayers’ time and money going over the same terrain again, at least this time we can do it with the benefit of new insight into the ACA and the inability of those who are behind it to keep a promise.

For example, they have told us that after the first three “free” years, the federal government’s share of Maine’s Medicaid expansion would drop to 90 percent, a development that would require Maine to come up with an additional $150 million for every two-year budget beginning in 2020.

That is reason enough to oppose the expansion, but given what’s happening with Obamacare thus far, there is much more cause for concern: are we supposed to believe that the feds will stick to their promise and commit to 90 percent? If it’s less than that, Maine will be on the hook for even more once we’ve committed to putting more of our citizens on welfare.

The central question for us is why should Maine be willing to create more dependence on a government that cannot deliver on its promises?

As we head into the next legislative session and renew this debate on Medicaid expansion, please do not forget that what we will really be voting on is our confidence in Obamacare.

Sen. Michael Thibodeau, R-Waldo, is the Maine Senate Republican Leader. Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Androscoggin, represents Maine Senate District 17.