Small businesses call for MaineCare expansion; detractors say Maine can’t swallow expense

Posted Feb. 19, 2014, at 3:40 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Small-business owners and community members called on legislators to override Gov. Paul LePage’s veto and ensure expanded MaineCare during a Maine Small Business Coalition press conference Wednesday in Bangor.

Expansion supporters have said accepting federal money to support the Medicaid expansion would bring about 4,000 new jobs, including many in the medical field, while also providing coverage to some 70,000 Mainers.

“The only thing more compelling than the clear economic data in support of MaineCare expansion is the moral imperative to provide health care to all Mainers,” said Kevin Simowitz, director of the Maine Small Business Coalition.

Harrison Clark, owner of cleaning company ServiceMaster Contract Services, said his business has been struggling to figure out how to cover health care costs for its employees, including a mix of full- and part-timers with an average wage of $9 per hour. It can be difficult, even with generous subsidies, to afford a plan on that wage with irregular hours, he said.

He’s worried that without the expansion, his uninsured employees will wait until they are already sick to seek health insurance.

Dr. John Lorenz, a Bangor psychologist, said that without the expansion, many people will go uninsured and untreated for mental illnesses. Some of those people will end up in jail or emergency rooms without the preventive care they need, costing communities in the long run, he argued.

The coalition also presented a pledge of support for the expansion signed by more than 100 small-business owners across the state.

Gov. Paul LePage and other opponents of the expansion have argued an expansion will cost the state money in the long run and cannibalize other state agencies and services. LePage has said the current MaineCare system already is “crowding out revenue for all other state agencies.”

The governor said the expansion would force the state to hire about 100 new Department of Health and Human Services employees to administer the program to the tens of thousands of people who would be covered under the expansion.

“Folks, nothing is free,” LePage said in his recent weekly radio address. “The federal government will not pay for all these new state employees. It will not pay for all other administrative costs. This will impact every agency in state government.”

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