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News from Senator Joe Brannigan

News from Senator Joe Brannigan

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Maine Medicaid Program Growth Contained, Provides for Most Needy

Tue, 01 Apr 2008 13:45:38 EDT

The debate continues around Maine's Medicaid program and with it, incomplete, misleading and inaccurate information. The real facts are that Maine's Medicaid program is one that has contained growth, provided much-needed medical services for our state's most vulnerable and is more in line with the rest of the nation than others would care for the public to believe.Let's start with the misguided notion of an out-of-control spending frenzy within Medicaid. Since 2006, Medicaid spending in Maine has declined by 2.2 percent. At the same time, the United States' average spending on Medicaid increased by 2.8 percent. We have contained growth by controlling drug cost, maximizing the number of dollars that come to the state from the Federal government, standardizing provider rates and implementing a strategy to manage one of our largest cost-drivers, behavioral health services.We have decreased benefits for childless adults and have established co-payments for some services. Maine has the second-lowest cost per enrollee in New England, trailing only Vermont.While Maine is portrayed by its critics as being out of sync with national income eligibility averages, this analysis is misleading, because the majority of states exceed the average. When it comes to non-working parents, 63 percent of the states surpass the national income eligibility average, with some states offering coverage for those at 275 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. For non-working parents, 57 percent of the states are over the national mark, some as high as 409 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. In Maine, benefits for all parents are capped at 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level.Maine's current income eligibility limits are higher than the national average, but the average income of Maine's Medicaid population is very low. For example, the average income of a single parent with three children receiving Medicaid in Maine is $11,655 annually. The average for a married couple with two children is $17,032. The childless adult population - the favored group for cuts by the Maine Heritage Policy Center and others - live far below the Federal Poverty Level. Their average income in Maine is $5,304 a year. These recipients are not Maine's most healthy as described by those who wish to see their coverage dropped. Without preventive care, these recipients allow their health to deteriorate, spending much time in emergency rooms while receiving higher cost care. Ask Maine's hospitals about their reduction in bad debt and charity care and they'll tell you that these numbers have dropped significantly since the childless adult population has been covered by Medicaid. Any comparison of how Maine's Medicaid numbers fare against the nation is an apples to watermelons comparison and one that should be approached with a level of caution. Certain costly programs are funded in other states by state dollars and are excluded from the comparison. For example, unlike Maine, many states have invested in institutions to provide mental health and mental retardation services. These institutions use state dollars and non-Medicaid federal funds for these services. Therefore, any true comparison of Maine with these states would need to factor in these costs. Doing so would make for an apples-to-apples approach - one clearly not favored by those who wish to portray our Medicaid spending as excessive.We know that the Medicaid debate is not over. We know that growth and cost need to be contained and we are doing that. But at the same time, we are proud that we have taken steps to move Maine toward its goal of being the healthiest state in the nation. Taking care of Maine's elderly, its children, persons with disabilities and our most vulnerable by utilizing federal funding through Medicaid is a key component in achieving this goal. It is the right thing to do.Senator Brannigan is the Senate Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Health and Human Services in the Maine Legislature. [...]