Governor Paul LePage is a really fucking savvy political operator. And he's
about to pull his biggest switcheroo ever, if the Dems let him get away with
It might look like he's about to tear himself in half, given how fast he's
running away from Obamacare on the one hand,
and racing to embrace it on the other.
But LePage's real goal is this: he wants to hand hundreds of millions of
taxpayer dollars to Maine
hospitals (to pay off old debt) without spending a dime on present or future
costs of providing poor Mainers with quality affordable health care.
LePage has regularly distanced himself from Obamacare,
famously saying he wouldn't "lift a finger" to create a state health-insurance
exchange, and going so far as to refuse $5.8 million in federal funds to pay for
its setup. (The exchanges, you may recall, are meant to be a service collecting
various health-insurance plans into one easy-to-compare list from which people
can choose benefits and prices more transparently.)
"One size does not fit all," LePage told a scrum of reporters outside
the Holiday Inn by the Bay, after appearing at the Portland
Chamber's "Eggs and Issues" breakfast this morning.
And then he went on to say that's exactly what he wants Mainers to get - an exchange set up by the
feds, because it wouldn't cost the state anything. So he has apparently
forgotten about that $5.8 million from the feds, and wrongly thinks Maine taxpayers would
have to pay to set up the exchange.
He even wants the feds to run Maine's
exchange in spite of the fact that, like most Republican governors, he thinks
locals can do almost anything better than the feds. (He went so far as to cite
a Wall Street Journal article
favorably comparing Maine's
insurance-market deregulation to Obamacare.)
In the past, LePage has also slashed eligibility for Medicaid coverage for
poor Mainers (cutting 44,000 people effective
in March) - and been rebuffed when seeking permission from the US
Department of Health and Human Services to cut even more. (Of course, he
claimed this morning that he had never
tried to cut Medicaid eligibility.)
And right now, LePage is opposing an effort by legislative Democrats to
restore coverage to about 10,000 of those 44,000.
That's the proposal the Dems have made, which would hand LePage a massive
political win: The okay to pay Maine
hospitals $480-million-plus in back debt, which he has made his primary
objective in this legislative season. (If the state pays $186 million, the feds
would kick in about $298 million, for a total of $484 million owed for past
care of Maine's
But now LePage is pretending he is willing to tie his major goal to the
success of Obamacare. How it looks on its face
is that the Dems' proposal has sent him racing back into the Obamacare
See, LePage is refusing to cover those 10,000 Mainers
for a very good reason - they'll all be covered by Obamacare
come January, he says.
Unless, of course, the feds fail. Or, as he put it this morning, "assuming
the exchanges are put up" - which of course he refuses to help with.
By embracing Obamacare in this limited way, while also weakening its chances
of success through malicious neglect, LePage may be able to put the Dems on the
back foot, and achieve his overall goal: the hospitals paid - without expanding
Medicaid enrollment, or any other government subsidy for needy Mainers without health