January 11

OUR OPINION: LePage wasted taxpayer money on biased Medicaid study

The report may help the governor’s campaign, but it offers nothing to Maine’s working poor.

Gov. Paul LePage spent nearly $1 million of taxpayer money hiring a consultant to tell him what he wanted to hear about Medicaid expansion. On Friday, it was clear that the governor got what we paid for.

Gary Alexander, a well-traveled opponent of anti-poverty programs, delivered the first $100,000 installment of his study of Maine’s social service system. Alexander asserted that Maine could not afford to extend Medicaid coverage to up to 70,000 near-poor Maine residents who earn as much as $15,856 for an individual or $32,499 for a family of four, because it would cost more to accept federal funds to cover these people than it would to leave them without insurance. How he reached that conclusion is unclear, but it is at odds with independent studies by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation and the state’s Office of Fiscal and Program Reveiw, which predicted that expanding Medicaid would be a net plus for the state budget.

For the governor, however, this has never been an issue about dollars and cents, and the Alexander study delivers more fuel for his emotional, fact-free attacks on the recipients of state services.

In one telling page of his presentation, Alexander compares the number of “employed Mainers” to each MaineCare enrollee under the current scenario and if the state expanded its program. The consultant claimed that each current MaineCare enrollee is supported by 1.8 employed Mainers, and if MaineCare were expanded, the number would be 1.3.

The problem with this analysis is that plenty of MaineCare enrollees already are working Mainers, and most of the people who would gain coverage under the expansion are other people with jobs. An adult whose income is less than $16,000 per year is not likely to have the kind of job that offers insurance. LePage can sneer about “able-bodied” people who “don’t work,” as he did last year, but Medicaid expansion is a program that would help hardworking Mainers who are on the brink of poverty.

The Alexander report doesn’t offer any ideas about how to help those people other than by denying them federally funded health insurance. The report does provide the governor with a political cudgel he can use in the upcoming gubernatorial race, blaming struggling working families for the state’s poor economy, avoiding taking any responsibility for his policies.

Alexander delivered what he was hired for, but it’s too bad that the governor didn’t spend the money looking for ways to really help people access health care instead of using it to help himself try to get re-elected.

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