As of Jan. 1, 70,000 of our neighbors, friends, relatives, patients and colleagues will have absolutely no health insurance coverage. It could be the high school friend who was laid off during the recession. It could be the family member struggling to work multiple jobs to make ends meet.

This is a reality for many Mainers. As nurses, we see this every day. It is our clarion call: to care for our patients. Key to this end is access to health insurance.

If an illness or injury goes unaddressed, treatment becomes more expensive. Even worse, it may progress beyond treatment or cure. Our patients must be able to access preventive treatment and care for chronic conditions before they reach a crisis point. Patients benefit personally and the state benefits from having a healthy workforce to drive the economy forward.

We have seen these individuals and their families. We have seen people lose their homes because they can’t afford to pay the growing mountain of medical bills. We have seen individuals go into bankruptcy because their child is battling cancer. This simply is not right.

As nurses, our ability to care for our patients does not end at the hospital doors. We need to let others know about these stories. We must share them with our families, friends and patients. We need to put faces and voices to the real-life stories of people who are struggling because they lack health insurance.

I commend groups such as Cover Maine Now that advocates for affordable health coverage. Cover Maine Now is a coalition of 80 consumers, business owners and health care organizations that support accepting federal funds to expand health care coverage.

This coalition needs our compelling stories to educate legislators and the general public about why we need to accept federal funds and provide people in Maine with health coverage. These are our neighbors who are the least able to afford coverage but need it the most. Yet, on Jan. 1, 2014, these are the people who will lose coverage.

Mainers have the opportunity to expand coverage and help people who will otherwise go uncovered. Maine can apply to receive federal funds to provide coverage for uninsured residents. We need nurses to educate legislators about how our patients and the health care facilities throughout Maine will benefit if federally funded health care is made available to the uninsured.

Federal dollars will also boost Maine’s economy in areas with a high density of health care facilities. Cover Maine Now reports that approximately one out of every five jobs in Androscoggin, Aroostook and Washington counties are in health-related industries.

This is my rallying cry to my colleagues. They must gather stories and share them. I urge legislators to accept federal health care dollars so that a high school friend can get his blood pressure checked, or a relative can get the preventative care she needs.

The day we became nurses, we pledged to provide care to our patients. Now, we must get out there and make it happen.

Rep. Anne Graham, North Yarmouth, is serving her second term in the Maine Legislature and represents part of Gray, North Yarmouth and part of Pownal. She is a pediatric nurse practitioner.

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