April 05, 2020

Debt to Maine hospitals

The recent news of the agreement reached between the Maine Hospital Association (MHA) and Gov. John Baldacci is certainly a positive sign that Maine hospitals will finally be paid for state debts owed dating back several years.

It is indeed a significant step forward in the ongoing effort to get the Baldacci administration to pay its debts to our hospitals, and we hope it’s an agreement the governor will keep.

The agreement – to pay Maine hospitals $204 million over the next two state budget-making cycles – is designed to pay off hundreds of millions of dollars owed to hospitals for their care of patients on Medicaid.

But as quality health care and more affordable insurance remain important issues this election year, it’s important for Maine people to keep a few things in mind about this proposed agreement. First off, the “agreement” reached is long overdue. The delinquent debt owed to Maine hospitals was entirely avoidable as I can tell you that my Republican colleagues and I in the Maine House of Representatives loudly called for paying hospitals for the services and care they provide, and the liberal Democrats in the Maine House of Representatives simply did not.

Secondly, one must consider the timing of this announcement: Why did the governor seek an agreement now, when he fought so hard against this resolution just a few months ago?

If the governor was as concerned about the neediest Mainers as he suggests, he would have ended this nonpayment situation long ago, perhaps in a nonelection year. But once again, we see the governor and liberals in the Legislature playing politics with health care. It’s painfully apparent that the governor was desperate to find a political solution to a serious problem. The governor and his liberal allies have not been leading and instead have been avoiding tough decisions, operating in a highly partisan manner, and have relied on playing politics with human services.

As disheartening as it is to see, the timing of this decision smacks of election-year politics, and a political payoff to the good, caring people of the hospitals who have been waiting too long. And this time, he’s playing politics with people’s lives.

Lastly, the clincher to this hospital deal, and perhaps the most important link with the hospital agreement, is the balance of power when the 123rd Legislature convenes this January.

Republicans in the Maine House of Representatives see this as an opportunity. With the balance of power in the House as close as it is, we are confident that a Republican majority in the Maine House of Representatives will become a reality. That’s good news for Maine hospitals. But that’s even better news for those in need of critical care in our hospitals.

Because like with most promises the governor has made, we hope he means it this time. The governor and his liberal allies in the Legislature have been making promise after promise, and they’ve failed to follow through on many before.

If the governor is re-elected, and that’s a big if, we soon shall see if his performance can measure up with his promise. I know with a Republican majority in the Maine House of Representatives, he’ll have to.

For me and my colleagues in Republican caucus, our actions will speak louder than the governor’s words.

They say, in politics, an ounce of performance is worth a pound of promises.

I know I’ll keep mine, and a Republican majority in the Maine House of Representatives will keep theirs.

Josh Tardy is the Assistant House Republican Leader in the 122nd Maine House of Representatives. He represents District 25 which includes Corinna, part of Corinth, Exeter, Newport and Plymouth.

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