Proposed Medicaid Cuts Draw Big Protests in Maine

By: - December 15, 2011 12:00 am

Earlier this year, it was Arizona that drew national attention for removing tens of thousands of its citizens from the Medicaid rolls. Now, Maine Governor Paul LePage wants to do the same, saying the state-federal health insurance program is becoming unsustainable.

LePage is pushing a proposal that would eliminate 65,000 Mainers from Medicaid, as the Bangor Daily News reports . At a hearing on the proposal Wednesday (December 14), hundreds of protesters converged on the State House to voice their disapproval of the plan, which seeks to close a million shortfall in the state health and human services budget.

“Health care is a basic human right,” Richard Malone, the Catholic bishop of Portland, Maine, testified before the legislative committee examining LePage’s proposal, according to the Daily News . “It is no less essential than food, shelter and clothing.”

But LePage, a Republican who is not afraid to express his views bluntly, is not backing away from his intentions. Medicaid, he says , “has expanded so much that other state agency budgets have been cannibalized.”

LePage’s office has been circulating statistics to back up his claim. Since 2002, Medicaid enrollment in Maine has grown by 78 percent, with nearly a third of the state’s population now relying on the program. Medicaid spending in the state, meanwhile, has increased 45 percent over the last decade.

Arizona and Maine, of course, are not the only states facing the explosive growth of Medicaid. They are simply the ones generating headlines for shrinking their health care rolls so dramatically.

A report this week by the National Association of State Budget Officers found that Medicaid is indeed crowding out other funding priorities for states around the country, most notably K-12 education.

“Medicaid in fiscal 2009 represented 21.9 percent of total state expenditures, 22.3 percent in fiscal 2010, and is estimated to represent 23.6 percent in fiscal 2011,” the report found. “At the same time, elementary and secondary education has gone from representing 21.5 percent of total state expenditures in fiscal 2009, to 20.5 percent in fiscal 2010, and an estimated 20.1 percent in fiscal 2011.”

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