Maine has an opportunity to finish paying back the hospital debt and accept federal health care dollars to cover more uninsured Maine people right now.

Thousands of people in Maine are unemployed or underemployed. Many of them do not have health insurance. We now have an opportunity to ensure that uninsured Maine people will have access to health care, saving millions of dollars that are currently spent on emergency room visits that could have been prevented with earlier and cheaper treatment.

Accepting these federal dollars is a great deal for Maine people. For the first three years, the federal government will cover 100 percent of the cost of covering newly eligible people. After that, the state’s share would still be considerably smaller than what we pay under the current MaineCare program, with Maine never having to pay more than 10 percent of the overall cost.

Accepting the federal dollars would also boost our economy. According to the nonpartisan Kaiser Foundation and the conservative Heritage Foundation, Maine is projected to save $690 million in the next 10 years if we accept the federal dollars. Also we have a chance to create over 3,000 jobs here in Maine if we accept this money, with half of them being in the health care field.

Building a strong economy and a strong middle class means making sure people have the health care they need, when they need it, at an affordable cost. Accepting federal funds to increase health coverage will strengthen Maine’s economy and provide health coverage to thousands of hard working Mainers.

According to the nonpartisan Maine People’s Resource Center, nearly 70 percent of Maine people support accepting federal health care dollars to increase access to health care. They see the opportunity and are advocating for it.

Democrats have a plan that accepts the federal dollars and finishes paying back the debt owed to our hospitals. Maine’s hospital debt is a symptom of our high health care costs. By accepting this money, more Maine families will be covered, reducing the hospital charity care costs, which are passed on to all Maine people.

Maine’s hospitals have the most to gain from our plan. The Maine Hospital Association has supported both paying back the hospitals and accepting federal health care dollars. They would get additional money for covering more Maine people, reduce their charity care, prevent layoffs and create more jobs.

If we accept these federal health care dollars, we can cover more Maine families, lower our health care costs and make a final payment on Maine’s hospital debt. This is a win-win situation for Maine.

The time to act is now. I call on the governor to accept the federal health care dollars and support the people of Maine.

Rep. Michel Lajoie, D-Lewiston, is a member of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

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