Recently, as leaders from the federally qualified health centers of Washington County, we spent a day in the Hall of Flags at the State House in Augusta to showcase the resources, initiatives and services we provide to our communities. We talked to legislators and lobbyists about our vital role helping our underserved population access quality health care. The health centers were joined by Washington County’s two hospitals, Healthy Maine Partnerships, Head Start and other organizations that make a daily difference.
While shining a light on the myriad of services we provide, including dental, medical and mental health services, we talked about patients, trends and needs. We emphasized our constant effort to ensure that our patients have consistent access to affordable health care especially for the newly insured under the Affordable Care Act. Our message was clear, direct and nonpartisan.
Our day was full of cordial conversations with Democrats and Republicans alike, and we emphasized the great need and how each community-based, cost-efficient health center’s positive impact is being harmed when existing, effective and necessary programs like MaineCare are threatened.
At our event, House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, talked about his willingness to seek a compromise, and all legislators seemed interested in our services for thousands of patients. Besides talking about the range of our services, we stressed how an additional $300 million in federal funds to the state of Maine would ease the hard times for many people.
With those funds, Maine will provide health care service to an additional 70,000 people while thoughtfully looking at ways to reduce costs. The recent proposal by Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, to accept the federal funds while adding necessary reforms to our state’s large and cumbersome welfare system is a sensible compromise.
While eligibility levels for people have significantly increased in states implementing the Medicaid expansion, there are large coverage gaps for Maine and other states not expanding. Sadly, Maine is one of 25 states that have not chosen to accept the federal funds, and it’s hurting poor parents and other adults who otherwise remain ineligible.
The states with their own exchanges leap-frogged those without and currently are exceeding federal enrollment targets. We can’t afford to fall further behind. In Maine, through coordinated, community-based efforts, we have enrolled 20,000 people, but through this compromise legislation, we can expand health care to more people in need.
The compromise legislation is sensible, prudent and the right thing to do for our low-income friends and neighbors. With these federal funds, we will provide the necessary services while continuing to achieve program efficiencies, management and savings.
The federally qualified health centers in Washington County and throughout the state play an important role in helping our citizens access health care services while being a model of an efficient state-federal partnership. We accept all forms of insurance and have established sliding fees for our uninsured and very low-income patients. Without an expanded MaineCare, it makes it increasingly difficult to maintain our fiscal sustainability.
In Washington County, we have formed a consortium, the Sunrise Health Coalition, to further share best practices and improve patient care and services. While we are nationally accountable, we are essential in helping Maine achieve state health policy goals and services. We are in the center of our communities, and we regularly engage and collaborate with hospitals, stakeholders, advocates and provider networks to pool resources. With the federal contribution, MaineCare is a more cost-effective way to serve and keep healthy our lowest-income patients.
Along with our Washington County federally qualified health center colleagues at the Regional Medical Center at Lubec, East Grand Health Center and St. Croix Regional Family Health Center, we believe that access to health care is not welfare. So, let’s put politics and scare tactics aside and accept the federal funds to provide the necessary protections and services for the hard-working and well-intentioned people of Washington County and Maine.
Lee Umphrey is CEO of Harrington Family Health Center, and Holly Gartmayer-DeYoung is CEO of Eastport Health Care.