Because of the easing of enrollment, MaineCare grew from 180,000 to 339,000 enrollees since 2001.

As a result, former Gov. John Baldacci left a $500 million hospital debt that dates back to 2009, a debt the state agreed to pay, but has not.

Gov. Paul LePage and the 125th Legislature changed this imperfect system to a pay-as-you-go system, so hospitals would be paid in the future. LePage also managed to pay the hospital bills through 2008.

Nonetheless, a $500 million hospital debt still lingers, and it’s costing Maine people their jobs.

According to the Maine Hospital Association, since this debt began, “Access to health care is being jeopardized.” Services have been eliminated, wages were frozen, benefits have been cut and more than 300 employees have been laid off, with the most recent layoffs occurring at Franklin Memorial Hospital.

LePage realizes this past debt is hindering Maine’s economic growth and has proposed to pay this debt by obligating $200 million from the liquor distribution contract, which would trigger a $298 million federal match. Failure to act will result in more job losses and will compromise our health care, along with a decreased federal match, which means the bill increases and the problem worsens.

The problem lies with misplaced priorities of the Democratic leadership. Hundreds of hearings have taken place, including a hearing on LD 226, “An Act To Establish a Renewable Energy License Plate,” but no hearings on the hospital debt.

Maine can do better, and it starts with a responsible government that pays its bills, not one that balances its checkbook on the backs of hospital employees and those in need of health care services.

I encourage the Democrats to support LePage’s proposal to pay the hospital debt before more good people lose their jobs.

Gary Maheux

Waterville

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