When “Professor” Harold Hill stepped off the train in a small Midwest town, he diagnosed debilitating problems. In the musical “The Music Man,” Hill said he saw danger lurking, exhorting townspeople, “Ladies and gentlemen, either you are closing your eyes to a situation you do not wish to acknowledge, or you are not aware of the caliber of disaster indicated by the presence of a pool table in your community!”
Yes, Hill said, there was “trouble, Right here in River City! With a capital ‘T’ that rhymes with ‘P,’ and that stands for pool.”
Gary Alexander also came to Maine with a notion that there was trouble, although if he were to sing about it, he’d have to find a good rhyme for “w.” That’s because, with Gov. Paul LePage’s administration and conservative Republicans, every sort of government program they don’t like is called “welfare.”
They’ve even called municipal revenue sharing, which sends tax dollars that were collected from towns and cities back to them, “welfare.” It’s a wonder the “w” keys on their keyboards haven’t worn out.
Not only has Alexander’s work been used to cast public health insurance as something shameful and to rally nearly all Republicans to vote against MaineCare expansion, but it’s been a whopping distraction from what’s most important to Mainers: jobs and the economy.
While the three largest cities in Maine have gained jobs, other areas have lagged. Part of our situation stems from long-term trends: a decline in manufacturing coupled with aging populations, so that the state’s rural areas and rim counties lag the most.
But not only does a lack of expansion not help, the refusal to cover more Mainers undermines Maine’s economy.
According to a study by the Maine Center for Economic Policy, MaineCare expansion “would support 4,400 jobs and add $500 million annually to Maine’s economy,” and would help every county’s employment picture. A whopping $62 in federal funds would match each Maine dollar, far more than the match for infrastructure bonds.
Health care is a major sector of Maine’s economy. But the incompetent Alexander Group didn’t evaluate how expansion would affect health care jobs.
With no economic impact analysis, they left out how health care funds going to doctors, lab technicians, health care administrators and nurses ripple through Mane’s economy, just like the way construction dollars move when they go to construction workers and defense appropriations go to engineers at Bath Iron Works. All those people spend, buying everything from soup to sofas and trucks to trousers, keeping retail businesses and restaurants going.
Experiences all over the country show that the Alexander Group also got it wrong when it claimed that expanding MaineCare wouldn’t reduce charity care. Companies that own multiple hospitals are reporting marked declines in uncompensated care in expansion states, while those costs are increasing in states that didn’t expand.
For some hospitals, the impact is remarkable. At “Seattle’s largest safety-net hospital, the proportion of uninsured patients fell from 12 percent last year to an unprecedented low of 2 percent this spring — a drop expected to boost Harborview Medical Center’s revenue by $20 million this year,” Kaiser Health News reported.
Meanwhile, in Maine, hospitals are suffering. Eastern Maine Medical Center reported a $7 million shortfall in March, in part because of a “surge in unpaid care.”
“EMMC anticipated a drop in charity care and bad debt as a result of more Mainers gaining health insurance coverage under the federal health reform law,” the BDN reported. MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta also faces layoffs it attributes in part to a lack of expansion.
Hiring Gary Alexander was an avoidable error fueled by ideology and politics. Auditor General of Pennsylvania Eugene DePasquale found serious problems with Alexander’s work, but no one contacted him. After DePasquale said he was “amazed” that Maine hired him, LePage’s campaign staff attacked him.
Only when plagiarism was found did the governor and his allies decide that taxpayers shouldn’t have paid for the Alexander Group’s error-ridden and generally discredited reports. Intellectual theft and fraud were, finally, too much.
Meanwhile, Alexander’s “studies” supported decisions that hurt Maine’s economy, undermining jobs, along with people’s health. Given how poorly our state, with its aging population, has recovered from the recession compared to other states, that’s trouble with a capital “T.”