President Barack Obama’s brazen and bold-faced misstatements about the Affordable Health Care Act, also known as Obamacare, may turn out to be a silver lining for Maine taxpayers.
When the Legislature reconvenes in January, the majority party will once again push legislation to expand Medicaid, which is administered through the state’s MaineCare program. Gov. Paul LePage vetoed the expansion during the Legislature’s first session, citing costs and budgeting priorities. Democratic leaders are relentless though and, in violation of legislative rules, have submitted emergency legislation to expand the program.
The expansion would add about 70,000 people to the MaineCare rolls, the majority of who are able-bodied, childless adults. That would bring MaineCare enrollment to about 375,000, nearly one third of the state’s population. Taxpayers, both state and federal, would cover every cent of expanded health care costs for a program that has no premiums, no office co-pays and no deductibles.
Under Obamacare, the federal government would cover 100 percent of the expansion for newly eligible childless adults for the first three years — the so-called “promotion price.” Thereafter, the federal government proposes to gradually decrease the rate of coverage to 90 percent. Covering the remaining 10 percent of costs would add an estimated $150 million to every state budget beginning in 2020.
Keep in mind that MaineCare currently accounts for 25 percent of state spending, up from 13 percent in 1998. The enormous and growing cost — about $750 million — is cannibalizing the state budget and crippling our ability to fund other critical responsibilities, such as education, roads and public safety.
Imagine the impact on state finances if we add those 70,000 recipients and the federal government – already $17 trillion in debt – decides it can’t make good on its promised payments. At that point, the state would legally be prohibited from reversing the expansion and would be faced with an insurmountable deficit.
This brings me back to President Obama and Obamacare.
Why shouldn’t taxpayers insist that some of these people buy the inexpensive new private market policies that have federally subsidized rates? The main purpose behind Obamacare is to provide affordable health care to those who are not currently covered. Could it be because even those in our state government who support this plan are aware of its deficiencies?
We were assured by the president and his administration at least 36 times, in no uncertain terms, that if you like your health insurance plan you can keep it – period. He promised that if you like your doctor you can keep your doctor – period.
Now, with the country’s health care system descending into chaos, we understand these none of his assertions were true. So did congressional Democrats.
The big slip-up came Nov. 17, on ABC’s “This Week” when Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, acknowledged under questioning from Martha Radditz that Democrats were never misled by Obama when he stated that Americans could keep their existing insurance plans. “We all knew,” she said.
With those three words, Gillibrand removed any doubt that the President and Democrats were aware that the program would require mass cancellation of insurance policies. They did not tell the rest of the American people in order to shore up support for the president’s "signature achievement."
But wait until the fall 2014 when the employer-sponsored plans get into the game. According to an analysis by McClatchy Newspapers, and backed up by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, some 34 to 53 million employer-provided policies will be eliminated. An analysis by Forbes magazine calculates that, all told, up to 93 million Americans will see their policies terminated.
In my mind, the credibility of Obama and his administration has been gravely damaged beyond repair. I believe the majority of Americans realize that they were sold a rotten bill of goods and that congressional Democrats were complicit.
If President Obama and his administration would mislead us about something so intimate and vital to all Americans, their health care, why should Mainers trust the “guarantee” we have been given that if we once again expand our MaineCare system we will receive 90 percent reimbursement from the federal government?
As we have seen, to minimize political damage to him and congressional Democrats, the president continues to explain his Obamacare law however he wants, operating as though we have somehow become a monarchy and he is the ruler.
And if you still choose to believe in that guarantee, please be aware of the fine print. Any future Congress could vote to lower the reimbursement rate, citing the federal government’s inability to pay due to accumulating debt, leaving Maine holding the bag.
Given these looming uncertainties, it makes little sense to expand a budget busting program. We should thank President Obama for his many misleading statements; they may help to save Maine taxpayers from a burden we simply cannot afford.
Rep. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, serves on the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee and Joint Select Committee on Maine's Workforce and Economic Future.
Editor's note: This column has been edited to reflect that some, but not all, of the 70,000 people referred to may be eligible for federally subsidized private market insurance policies.