The Possibility of Medicaid Expansion in Maine
In Governor Paul LePage’s State of the State address this past week, he made it clear that poverty and economic improvement were currently hot topics for Maine. The governor recognized that poverty is an issue that the state must keep working on. However, when many people think of the solutions to poverty, government aid comes to mind — and LePage seems to be convinced that welfare or Medicaid expansion will not help at all. “More welfare has not led to prosperity. It has not broken the cycle of generational poverty,” said LePage as he reiterated his opposition to Medicaid expansion. This, of course, leaves the following question: if Medicaid or increased welfare will not help, what WILL help?
During his address, LePage voiced a few of his alternative ideas that may help to eliminate poverty in the state of Maine. Perhaps one of his biggest ideas was to further lower taxes for Mainers by at least 100 million dollars. Logically, this idea seems as though it would be effective, because less taxes naturally means more spending money circulating throughout the economy. Maine voters will decide through an upcoming referendum whether or not this is something they would like to see carried out, and my hope is that LePage’s idea will eventually be executed.
While this sounds like a reasonable idea that would likely benefit the state, why can’t we carry out this plan in addition to expanding Medicaid? I think a combination of both would be highly effective. LePage argues that Medicaid expansion is “fiscally irresponsible”, but when the federal government has already agreed to foot the majority of the bill for years to come, I just don’t see what Maine has to lose. LePage also argues that if Maine does expand Medicaid, our state will end up spending well over 25% of its general expenditures, therefore crowding out priorities. While I do admit that 25% is a fairly high percentage, I feel as though Maine’s struggle with poverty is one of the most important issues in Maine right now. LePage makes it seem as though we can just put the issue of poverty on the backburner, but Maine cannot afford to do that when some communities have poverty rates of up to 30%. With that being said, if we eliminate poverty, the entire state will see benefits: improvement in education, a flourishing economy, healthier individuals, etc.
So where do we begin to tackle the problem as it stands? Medicaid expansion will undoubtedly set Maine on the right path to help eliminate poverty, while also providing benefits to those who are above the poverty line. For instance, it provides low-income Mainers with free or low medical coverage that they would otherwise be unable to afford, and this aid would be extended to roughly 100,000 more individuals if expanded. This would, in turn, lower medical costs for everyone, because patients who could not otherwise pay for themselves are covered federally, rather than have everyone else pay the consequences through raised medical costs. Lower medical costs as a result of Medicaid expansion overall will boost the economy, while poverty-stricken families will be healthier and better off financially. LePage and others who oppose Medicaid expansion claim that those who recieve Medicaid can instead buy cheap private healthcare, but this option is just not affordable for families who are living in poverty.
The issue of poverty and financial inequality in Maine is a huge problem, and it is the job of Maine government to take action in solving it. Governor Paul LePage is on the right track in recognizing this, but I also believe that Medicaid expansion would prove to be very beneficial to our state.