Ethan: So, it looks like my friends in the State Senate have put a plan on the table to pay back the hospitals without taking out any debt. Do you think these financially strapped medical institutions will finally have enough money to stop turning away baby seals, as happened last week when one turned up at the door of Mercy Hospital in Portland?
Phil: You are so funny, you should go to Hollywood. I can see you on the stage of The Tonight Show as Jay Leno’s successor.
Ethan: Leno? Man, you are old. But, hey, compared to the Republican plan, which forces future generations to pay a decades’ worth of interest, you must be ready to join the only fiscally responsible party in Maine. Need a voter registration card so you can become a Democrat?
Phil: You preparing to play the Comedy Connection or something? You seem to have glanced over the part where your friends just a few days ago were debating whether to even pay the bill. What changed their minds?
Ethan: I guess they finally heard those sorrowful pleas from Republicans about how much those hospital CEO’s were suffering from financial deprivation.
Phil: Now you’re pining for an Emmy. All progress begins with the truth. The truth is we’ve owed our hospitals hundreds of millions for years and Gov. Paul LePage developed a plan to pay them. Your friends have finally acknowledged that Mainers agree with him. Now comes the acting to craft a win-win outcome. What’s your advice to your friends?
Ethan: I agree that we need to pay our bills. Also I agree that Maine people support LePage’s effort to get the debt off the books. However, I am not sure Maine people believe we should pay this bill at the expense of the many other neglected sectors of our economy like our roads and schools.
Phil: Are you sure you don’t want a second take on that one? After your man Gov. John Baldacci increased welfare without appropriating the money to pay the hospitals, you are promoting “more important” promises than paying the bills we’ve already rung up. We both know — even with our diametric views of the role of government — that neither your social service agency, nor my profit-minded business, could keep people employed with that financial plan.
Ethan: Nobody said we shouldn’t pay our bills. The issue is priorities. That said, if my friends feel the need to put the hospitals at the front of the line, my advice is to tie the transparency, outcome-based funding and increased coverage they speak of directly to their bill. If we simply acquiesce to the governor’s wishes and hope for the best, without ensuring that Democratic values are reflected in the final outcome, we will have lost a great opportunity.
Phil: Deciding to take on new expenses before paying old ones isn’t about priorities in my opinion. Rather, it conveys a different set of rules for government than for “we the people.” If I was governor, I would use the passage of this bill to bring in the leaders of Maine’s hospitals and negotiate a discount in exchange for paying them now. Seek better pricing by directing more of our business to those facilities that deliver on price, quality and outcomes. Wait, I just revealed how Republicans and Democrats have the same values.
Ethan: Love it! You have hit the nail on the head. Remember, when we expanded coverage, it was an attempt to pay hospitals for what they were already doing. What we didn’t do was get enough in return. Now is the time for that negotiation, and I am glad you are on board.
Phil: OK, check the “to-do” list as done. Now we must create a transparent competitive bid process, so Maine has market-tested value for the next 10-year lease for Maine’s liquor business. Then we would know that the highest possible revenues are coming into the state checkbook. Wouldn’t it be nice for a Maine company to win that bid?
Ethan: Indeed it would. Both a Maine company and a company committed to Maine. So, if we get that bid with upfront money, you are willing to accept the Democrats proposal to pay it all at once, as opposed to putting it out to revenue bond?
Phil: Ah, the spin doctor returns. By demanding that the bidder come with $185 million up front, Democrats are hardwiring it for the incumbent who politically engineered the first deal. Even you admit Maine didn’t get a fair deal back then. And the incumbent runs the liquor operation in New Hampshire — our competitor! Why not a transparent competitive bid for the best revenue for Maine over the life of the lease?
Ethan: Boy is that a whole lot of conspiracy theory, but count me in for the best long-term deal for Maine. And if we can’t get someone to pony up a big enough bag of cash, I hope you agree it is better to simply pay the hospitals over time. Borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, as your party is now promoting, is not the party of the Phil Harriman I know.
Phil: Perhaps we should let the state treasurer analyze the net result of the final bids (including possible interest). If the best long-term deal is an upfront payment, fine. If it is a long-term revenue bond, then fine. In either instance, we both agree the state should negotiate hard with the hospitals and get something in return. Is that a wrap?
Ethan: Wrap! Oscar, here we come…