In the span of a few days last week, three major headlines related to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services dominated the news.
Journalists reported on the awarding of a new building lease for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services for the department’s greater Portland office and the ensuing reaction from Democrats. Also last week, Gov. Paul LePage wrote a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius complaining that she informed Mainers they may be eligible for free MaineCare health insurance, yet she didn’t send Maine DHHS the information about the eligible people. And lastly, Maine DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew made news with her address to the Greater Portland Chamber of Commerce about the fiscal and logistical challenges with which the state is grappling.
What elevated these items’ newsworthiness is what appears to me to be the rhetorical overreach by some politicians determined to overlook or ignore the facts for their own political and party advantage and to the detriment of Mainers who pay the taxes to support those who need a helping hand. Their political tactics generated uncertainty, and even anxiety, among the very people for whom they claim to speak.
Take Senate President Justin Alfond’s rhetorical overreach when he proclaimed that LePage declared “war on the poor” by selecting the best proposal for the DHHS location. The winning bid selected saves $14 million dollars over 20 years and combines the Department of Labor’s services with Health and Human Services in the same building so people can get the help they need and access to job opportunities in one location.
While the rhetorical overreach was at its peak last week, Alfond and Portland Mayor Michael Brennan knew full well a year ago the current lease was overpriced and changes were certain to come. What’s not clear is what, if anything, either of them did to engage in the project. Meanwhile, the governor who climbed out of poverty and the welfare system is criticized by the Senate president who hails from intergenerational wealth. Apparently, Alfond knows better than LePage what it takes to claw and climb out of poverty?
Even my friend and colleague Ethan piled on the rhetorical overreach regarding the Obamacare’s, shall we say, snafus. Apparently, 600 or so Mainers who got the Obamacare website to work were informed they may qualify for free health care through Medicaid, known here as MaineCare. When the feds didn’t pass along the details about those to sign up for MaineCare, it left the Maine DHHS with no information to determine if they were, leaving those individuals to take out their frustration on the Maine DHHS.
My brother from another mother, Ethan, was asked for his analysis on our recent NBC news affiliate segment. What he said was, in essence, that it was LePage’s fault because he didn’t set up an Obamacare exchange in Maine.
Really? Several states that have set up their own exchanges — including California and Maryland, both by run Democratic governors — are experiencing major problems.
When Mayhew spoke last Wednesday to the Greater Portland Chamber, I was optimistic that her startling facts would generate several news cycles so people could grasp the magnitude of the services and the costs associated with this department. Apparently I was wrong.
Among her startling facts was that 5 percent of people on Maine Care are responsible for 54 percent of the costs. We have approximately 4,000 people on waiting lists eligible for our most intensive services for the mentally ill and the elderly. Meanwhile, what we hear from the rhetorical overreachers is that we should take “free” money from Washington for three years to add tens of thousands more people to the welfare rolls.
What they don’t say in their rhetoric is that Washington doesn’t have the money; we borrow it and we’re sending the bill with interest to our children and grandchildren. They don’t mention that after three years (assuming Washington doesn’t change the deal) Maine’s costs will add up to $150 million every two years by 2020-21.
So why should all this matter? Agree with Mayhew and LePage or don’t, but what they’re talking about are serious problems that need solutions. It seems clear to me we need some legislative diplomats to step forward to solve these problems. Let’s put aside the rhetoric and political strategies, do some basic math, roll up our sleeves and address these matters as Mainers, not political powerbrokers.
Do you know anyone who fits the description?