As the days become longer and the weather begins to moderate (hopefully), debate is intensifying about growing the very program that has been pushing all other state interests aside and consuming more and larger portions of our state’s financial resources.

Last week, the commissioners of our natural resource agencies made the case for what their departments could achieve if their own resources were not depleted by the black hole called the Department of Health and Human Services.

The Democrats have made the case that we simply cannot walk away from the “economic development” that will be created by the largest expansion of government entitlements in our state’s history — a program that would allow 70,000 more Mainers to become dependent on a system that is stretched to its capacity, funded by a federal government that is ringing up debt at an alarming and unsustainable rate.

There is a better way forward for Maine.

I am not a supporter of the Affordable Care Act, primarily because of the burdens it places on employers and the penalties it will impose on those who choose not to buy insurance. The long-term prognosis of this top-down government approach to health care is, at best, questionable. I also believe the law continues to have a negative impact on the nation’s economic recovery.

Because of the law, however, low- to-moderate income Mainers can receive subsidies for buying private insurance policies on the federal health care exchanges. For example, an individual making $14,000 per year can, for about $5 per week, now purchase a health insurance policy. Again, I don’t believe the Affordable Care Act is sustainable; but because of it, this assistance is available.

The Democrats know about these incredibly low premiums that are available, yet are unyielding in their desire to grow government.

The Democrats would have you believe there is no way for a person earning less than 100 percent of the federal poverty rate to receive these subsidies. The fact of the matter is qualifying is a self-declaration of intent. Making a conscious commitment to bring yourself above the poverty line allows you to receive these subsidies — with no penalty for falling short of that goal of improving your own economic future and working your way out of poverty. Is it too much to ask of anyone receiving benefits to commit to improving their own economic future?

Our Democratic friends seem to be stuck on the same message: It’s too hard for you to insure yourself for as little as $4 per week, so you need to look for the government to do it at taxpayer expense.

In Maine, about 5,000 people already have received coverage by going on the exchanges. These are people who we will not have to subsidize with Medicaid because they have taken the responsible step of securing their own private insurance. Shouldn’t we encourage everyone to do this?

The state of Maine last year paid off more than $700 million in debt that resulted from Medicaid services that were performed by hospitals that went unpaid. This accumulation of debt was a result of our previous Medicaid expansion in 2002. Why would we want to go down this same road again when we have the option of allowing Mainers to buy their own insurance and, in the process, pay deductibles and copays? If those individuals have skin in the game, hospitals will pay actual costs for their services rather than pass them on to private insurance payers.

America was built on the promise that we all have an opportunity to succeed, not that we are all guaranteed the same outcome. We have a compassionate society that does not want to see others go without. None of us wants that for our neighbors. But we simply cannot continue to encourage dependency without the expectation that those who receive our help are working toward their own success.

Sen. Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport, is the Maine Senate Republican leader.