AUGUSTA — Mainers who fear that time is running out on their health care coverage urged Gov. Paul LePage on Tuesday to accept an expansion of Medicaid that's being offered under the federal health care overhaul.
The Maine People's Alliance delivered paper copies of 2,500 messages that it collected on its website after a news conference in which speakers gave personal accounts of why they need coverage through Medicaid, the joint federal-state health care program for the poor that's known as MaineCare in the state.
"My family will lose MaineCare by the end of April. We will no longer be able to afford my husband's heart medications and cardiologist appointments," wrote Margie King of Cornish. "My husband works as an arborist for a tree company. He works long hours from April-December to support our family of six."
King said she's attending community college in hopes of finding a job that offers health care coverage, "but we need time. Please don't take this away from us. I don't know what we are going to do. Please," King wrote.
LePage hasn't decided whether the state should accept the government's offer to fully fund the Medicaid expansion for three years. The state's share of the cost would gradually increase after that until it reaches 10 percent in 2020.
If Maine does not accept the federal government's offer, coverage for some families, like King's, would end Jan. 1.
The governor, who's on his annual vacation in Jamaica until the end of the week, is willing to explore options but is wary of any deal that could lead to higher Medicaid costs for the state, said his spokesman, Peter Steele. "What the governor is looking for is flexibility in managing our own program," said Steele. "Without some very solid assurances from the federal government, he's very wary of going ahead," said Steele.
Last week, LePage asked the federal government to guarantee 100 percent of Medicaid costs for 10 years if Maine is to agree to the expansion. As of Tuesday, there was no response.
Majority Democrats in the Legislature are strongly in favor of expansion, as is the Maine Medical Association. The Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce announced its endorsement of Medicaid expansion last week, saying it will likely reduce charitable care costs in the health care system, and the left-leaning Maine Center for Economic Policy said expansion would result in $256 million in new health care spending, generating more than $350 million in economic activity in 2016.
Supporters of expansion say it would extend coverage to 69,500 people and save the state $690 million over the next 10 years.