Mainers deserve the medical care they need, when they need it, without facing huge medical bills. Over the past six months, Democrats have worked tirelessly to extend health insurance to more Maine people by accepting federal health care dollars set aside for Maine under the Affordable Care Act.
No man, woman, or child should ever have to worry again about going without health insurance or medical care. We fell a few votes short of overriding the governor’s veto of the bipartisan proposal to accept federal dollars, but this does not mean we will stop fighting to expand access to medical care.
As Maine recovers from the worst recession in decades, many Mainers are working their way back into the middle class. Most of the 70,000 Mainers who would benefit are working class people who aren’t paid enough to afford private health insurance. These people are employed as housekeepers, waiters and waitresses, cooks, salespersons, cashiers and others whose median hourly wages range between $8.70 and $10.42, substantially less than what is needed to afford private health insurance.
Health insurance for 70,000 Mainers would add an extra layer of economic security for working people. Health insurance would allow more working Mainers to get the care they need without fear of financial ruin.
Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government has agreed to pay 100 percent of the cost of coverage for all newly eligible people for the first three years, and then gradually lower their payment to no less than 90 percent of the cost by 2020. The bipartisan compromise would have accepted federal health care dollars for the first three years, with a sunset on December 31, 2016, prior to the gradual reduction of the federal government’s share, which would have been no lower than 90 percent.
Accepting funds after the sunset would have required an affirmative vote by the Legislature. If the federal government reneged on its promise to pay for 100 percent of the cost of covering newly eligible patients during the first three years, we would automatically end our participation.
Accepting federal dollars will save the state money because when Mainers can get the care they need, they will be more likely to treat illnesses early, before they become expensive. Maine is projected to save $690 million over the next 10 years if it accepts the federal dollars, according to the nonpartisan Kaiser Foundation and the conservative Heritage Foundation.
This is a deal that is too good to pass up. An independent analysis by the Maine Center for Economic Policy found that accepting federal dollars would create 4,500 new jobs. For many, it would mean the difference between eating cheap junk food and buying a healthy meal; paying rent or homelessness; climbing into the middle class or barely scraping by. For businesses, customers would have more money to spend. Maine is one of three states in the country to lose jobs in the past year and this bill represents an important step toward putting Maine back on track.
When the Legislature reconvenes in January, Democrats will introduce legislation to accept federal dollars to cover nearly 70,000 Mainers. We are hopeful that thoughtful discussions with our Republican partners will produce a mutually agreeable compromise to expand access to health care.
Lawmakers have heard from constituents about the benefits of health insurance many times. I implore them to make the right choice by letting Mainers get the care they deserve.
Rep. Linda Sanborn, Gorham, represents District 130 in the Maine Legislature. She is a retired family doctor who sponsored the bill this session to extend Medicaid coverage to 70,000 Mainers. A third-term member of the House of Representatives, she has served on the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee and is a current member of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee.