Getting the Facts Straight

September 15, 2010 by

Rigorous and credible research and analysis should be the foundation for evaluating public policies.  Unfortunately during this election season, it is increasingly difficult to discern fact from fiction.  The latest example of playing fast and loose with the numbers comes from a recently released report by the Maine Heritage Policy Center (MPHC) titled “Fix the System.”

 MHPC paints only in broad strokes and relies on irresponsible generalizations to advance their cause.  Case in point, MHPC never clarifies exactly which programs it is talking about when discussing the need to fix Maine’s “welfare system.”  As a result, they extend their critique of one program in particular – Temporary Assistance to Needy Families – to the system as a whole. 

 The TANF program constitutes approximately 1% of the state’s budget and serves about 14,200 families.  This is hardly the source of our budget woes nor could it possibly “trap” a large population as MHPC suggests.  In fact, one of the report’s authors, Tarren Bragdon, helped pass the TANF legislation as a Republican in 1997, which has changed little since then.

 Lumping spending on health care through the state’s Medicaid program, MaineCare, leads to the claim that “Maine spends $2.506 billion on welfare.”  It ignores the key fact that much of this money comes from federal sources which actually helps Maine take care of its most vulnerable citizens and provides significant economic benefit to the state.

 Suggesting that Maine is somehow out-of-step in its design of MaineCare is similarly misleading.  82% of MaineCare’s budget reimburses healthcare providers for services to children, the elderly, and people with disabilities.  These are populations served in accordance with mostly federal, not state, guidelines.  To suggest that Maine is “trapping” these people in a state of dependency is troubling to say the least.

 Where Maine has exercised discretion in the implementation of MaineCare, it has been done with bipartisan support and with very specific outcomes in mind.  Expanding eligibility to parents and childless adults has helped Maine achieve some of the highest rates of health insurance coverage in the country at a cost that is less than what it otherwise would have been.  Extending drug benefits to seniors has allowed the state to reduce the cost of prescription drugs at significant savings.  MHPC’s insistence on benchmarking Maine’s enrollment levels in MaineCare to other states obscures these facts and fails to acknowledge demographic differences between states as well.

 Re-evaluating and strengthening Maine’s safety net to help individuals and families in a changing economy is an important task.  Maximizing the return on our investment in these programs requires us to recognize their inherent complexities and differences rather than demonizing programs and people for political convenience.

6 Responses to “Getting the Facts Straight”
  1. Ron Langworthy says:

    I skimmed through “Fix the System”. The hallmark of a political rather than informational tract is the lack of reference or consideration of evidence that doesn’t support the thesis. John Baldacci’s policies are blamed for increasing use of welfare, whereas it’s fairly obvious that a larger influence would be the economy. I haven’t read but a few articles from the MCEP so I don’t have a basis for an opinion whether MCEP does the same thing. Has MCEP ever criticized safety net programs? The suspicion of waste in welfare runs deep because I’m a liberal democrat whose long career has been dedicated to providing high quality, efficient services and I felt myself agreeing with some of the MHPC points.

  2. Bill Ewing says:

    Would it be possible for MCEP to create a side by side rebuttal to MHPC arguments/statements? In today’s Twin City Times State Rep. Rich Cebra states his concerns and why he “will again propose a 5 point welfare reform bill”. His points don’t necessarily line up against Kit’s so it is difficult to get an “apples to apples” understanding of issues (as both you & Kit have pointed out). I recognize the concern that over-simplification may water down an argument but for those of us who don’t have the time or knowledge to parse all the statements it would be very helpful. The example of Medicaid eligibility ($51,000 vs national avg of $15,000) seems to beg clarification.

  3. Garrett Martin says:

    Thank you for your comment!

    MECEP has offered suggestions on how to improve Maine’s safety net. Our most substantive work on this topic comes from 2002 and 2003, though we continually strive to identify ways to fund programs in a fair and sustainable manner and to improve programs so that they are better coordinated, run more effectively and achieve the intended outcomes.

    Another great resource is Maine Equal Justice Partners (MEJP), which has much greater knowledge of Maine’s safety net due to their direct work with low-income Mainers and with the state Department of Health and Human Services to improve programs and make them more responsive.

    Of course, one of the challenges to improving the system is its inherent complexity. Each program has its own set of guidelines and eligibility standards that are typically federally mandated. Interestingly, this issue was a topic of considerable discussion among a group of economists who met recently at an informal lunch hosted by the Maine Development Foundation. At the end of the discussion we found ourselves asking “If we identified how best to align incentives to create a seamless system that does a better job transitioning people toward independence, could we enact it as a state?”

    We certainly welcome constructive discussions on these issues and acknowledge the need to evaluate and strengthen programs on a continuing basis.

  4. Fred Kilfoil says:

    “The example of Medicaid eligibility ($51,000 vs national avg of $15,000) seems to beg clarification.” —-I’ll ask again for Bill Ewing. Where is the clarification? Fred Kilfoil

  5. “””Expanding eligibility to parents and childless adults has helped Maine achieve some of the highest rates of health insurance coverage in the country at a cost that is less than what it otherwise would have been.”””

    Some would call Maine’s expansion of Medicaid to parents and childless adults irresponsible and unaffordable. Having the highest in the country percentage of our citizens on medical welfare should not be something we aspire to. It should not be included in the statistics of “insurance coverage.”

  6. many beneficiaries’ premiums will continue to be relatively good in 2011, those that already compensate higher monthly premiums for physician’s visits and various ‘Part B’ coverage may also pay further for ‘Part D’ health professional prescribed drug coverage come jan. 1….additionaly, insurers are actually eliminating and consolidating 100s of Medicare-related plans this year, in section to stick to recent regulations made for reducing duplicative blueprints.

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