LePage, Price talk addiction, but miss Medicaid’s role in recovery

Birds of a feather, it seems.

US Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price is in Maine this week, ostensibly to hold a press conference with Gov. Paul LePage about the state’s opioid crisis.

The visit, which was announced with less than 24 hours notice, puts LePage and Price on the same stage in Augusta talking about health care.

And it comes at a time when the Senate is working to overhaul a disastrous health care bill passed just last week by the House of Representatives.

Perhaps the visit is payback for LePage’s recent visits to Washington. Instead of a job, he gets a little love from DHHS. Or perhaps, it’s to send a message to Sen. Susan Collins, who is one of the leading skeptics in the Senate of the bill because of its dangerous impacts on Maine.

Or to buck up Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who has come under intense pressure since his vote to take health care away from millions, including tens of thousands of Mainers.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer speak to the media after the Congressional Budget Office released its estimate Monday predicting 24 million people will lose health coverage over the next decade under the Republicans’ American Health Care Act. Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

It’s fitting that LePage and Price will be together. The two men have basically invented the “Four Pinocchios” or “Pants on Fire” ratings used by fact checkers who are too refined to call someone a liar.

LePage has made a career out of mangling facts about health care, drug addiction and drug crime.

His policies range from misguided to derelict to needlessly cruel and senseless. He has refused to expand access to health care and has actually taken coverage away from Maine people.

Price, fresh off a long career in Congress, earned a resounding “Four Pinocchios” from the Washington Post over the weekend for his futile efforts to spin baloney into talking points around the Trumpcare, which is also called the American Health Care Act – insomuch as it takes health care away from 24 million Americans or more.

Price tried to make the argument that the AHCA would not make cuts to Medicaid, which serves about 263,000 people in Maine.

That’s not true.

The AHCA cuts more than $800 billion from the program and would seriously impact older Mainers, people with disability and children. It even puts at risk medical services that are provided to special needs students in schools.

The Post put it simply: “When you are reducing spending by more than $800 billion over 10 years, you can’t pretend you are boosting spending.”

It’s not the first time that Price has stretched the truth. During his confirmation hearing, his testimony came under tough scrutiny.

As the Wall Street Journal reported in January, Price got a sweetheart of a deal when he bought biomedical stock at a discount while serving in Congress. Price testified, under oath, that the same deal was available to “every single individual that was an investor at the time.”

Nope. That’s not true. The Journal found that Price was one of fewer than 20 US investors offered the deal.

ProPublica, a Pulitzer Prize winning, independent, non-profit newsroom, dug deeper into the Price affair.

“On the same day the stockbroker for then Georgia Congressman Tom Price bought him up to $90,000 of stock in six pharmaceutical companies last year, Price arranged a call to a top US health official, seeking to scuttle a controversial rule that could have hurt the firms’ profits and driven down share prices,” it reported

There’s not a person in Maine who doesn’t know that our state is facing a terrible crisis with opioids. Three hundred seventy-eight people died of drug overdoses in Maine last year, including 313 who were killed by heroin or other opiates.

Last month, during a meeting of the Task Force to Address the Opioid Crisis in the State, Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck was clear.

We can’t fight addiction without making sure that more people have access to affordable health care.

When asked what would make the biggest difference to fighting the crisis, Sauschuck said the expansion of Medicaid. That’s because so many people grappling with addiction lack insurance to access treatment, the Portland Press Herald reported.

“It’s funny, as a cop sitting here, I’m not going to tell you that I need more drug agents. I’m going to tell you I need more treatment and I need more prevention work,” Sauschuck said.

“If we’re not doing prevention, treatment and enforcement – and we’re not doing them equally – then we will fail and we are going to continue to fail. And when we fail in this conversation, people are dying. A person is going to die today, tomorrow and every day moving forward, [that] is what the stats show.”

While LePage and Price will be talking about addiction, they’re both schilling for legislation that does just the opposite of what Maine needs to push back against our drug crisis.

The American Health Care Act would tear the heart out of Medicaid – and out of the most effective tool in fight against addiction.

David Farmer

About David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at dfarmer14@hotmail.com.