January 24, 2019
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Accepting federal health care dollars will strengthen Maine

Courtesy photo | BDN
Courtesy photo | BDN
Rep. John Schneck, D-Bangor.

This year, Maine has a chance to take a major step forward in health insurance coverage. The federal government, through the Affordable Care Act, will pay for Maine to cover nearly 70,000 more of its citizens.

Democrats in the Legislature are moving forward with a bill that would accept these federal dollars and accelerate the final debt payment owed to Maine’s hospitals. Lawmakers and Gov. Paul LePage should embrace this proposal.

For every $1 spent on preventive care, we save $5.60 in money that we don’t spend treating people after they’ve already become very sick, according to the Trust for America’s Health. That’s one of the big reasons why Maine is actually projected to save $690 million over the next 10 years if it accepts the federal dollars, according to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

Using these federal dollars to cover more Mainers will encourage more people to visit their primary care doctors early and head off major health problems before they can get worse and more expensive to address. It will also cut down on costly emergency room visits, which is often where uninsured Mainers end up when health problems become too serious to ignore.

These newly covered Mainers will be much more likely to remain healthy, productive members of the workforce. This is a boost for employers who count on hard-working, experienced employees to keep their businesses running strong.

Right now, too many Mainers are one illness or accident away from financial ruin. It doesn’t have to be that way. Accepting federal funds to increase health coverage is the right thing to do and will give Maine families the security they need to get the care they need when they need it — without facing huge medical bills.

Working families should not have to fear bankruptcy because someone gets sick. With health insurance coverage, they can focus on making ends meet while putting money back into Maine’s economy every day.

Accepting federal funds is a bargain for Maine. The federal government will pay 100 percent of the cost for covering all newly eligible people for the first three years. After that, the state’s share would still be considerably smaller than under the current MaineCare program. In addition, Maine can opt out at any time.

The Legislature’s plan to accept federal health care dollars also includes a plan to pay in full the debt that Maine owes to its hospitals. Democrats and Republicans have been working to pay off Maine’s hospital debt for more than a decade. We reformed the payment system to prevent debt from accruing, and now we have an opportunity to address a cost driver in the system.

Maine’s hospital debt is a symptom of our high health care costs. By accepting federal health care dollars to cover more Maine families, we reduce hospital charity care costs, which are passed on to all Maine people.

Our plan will save and create jobs. Accepting federal dollars and paying off the hospital debt will inject an additional $250 million into the state’s economy and create more than 3,100 jobs — approximately half in the health care field, according to the Maine Center for Economic Policy. It would also prevent layoffs by providing more patients to hospitals that are seeing a drop off in patients.

Maine should not pass up this chance to improve our approach to health insurance and finally pay off our debt to local hospitals. It will be good for patients, good for working families, good for Maine’s hospitals, and good for Maine’s economy. The Legislature should pass this plan now, and the governor should sign it into law.

Rep. John Schneck, D-Bangor, is serving his first term in the Maine House of Representatives.

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