CONTRIBUTORS

Medicaid expansion will save lives, boost the economy

In this January 2014 file photo, young demonstrators hold signs at a rally and lobby day organized by the Maine Peoples Alliance at the State House in Augusta around the issue of Medicaid expansion.
In this January 2014 file photo, young demonstrators hold signs at a rally and lobby day organized by the Maine Peoples Alliance at the State House in Augusta around the issue of Medicaid expansion. Buy Photo
Posted March 05, 2014, at 12:39 p.m.
Last modified March 05, 2014, at 2:41 p.m.

Last year, Gov. Paul LePage had the opportunity to save as many as 157 lives, but he declined. That’s the number of lives that could have been saved had LePage signed the bill to accept federal funds so that approximately 69,500 low-income Mainers could have health insurance, according to a study in Health Affairs.

Now, however, the Maine Legislature has a second chance to save those lives and improve the lives of thousands of others.

People such as 61-year-old stroke survivor Roberta Manter, who lost access to MaineCare after the last round of cuts in January and can’t afford the yearly MRIs and blood work her doctors recommend.

Or Rose Whitehead, a self-employed fiber artist living with Lyme disease, who can’t afford the antibiotics she needs to recover her health and her productivity.

Or Laura Tasheikom, who was uninsured and unable to afford to see a doctor when she found a lump on her breast. The lump turned out to be cancer. She was able to get treatment when her application for MaineCare was accepted, but she lost her coverage in a round of cuts a year ago and is struggling to afford the necessary follow-up care.

These are just a few stories culled from the testimonies of the hundreds of people who have shared their experiences in hopes of convincing their legislators to accept federal funds so that hard-working, low-income Mainers can have the same access to health care as everyone else does under the Affordable Care Act.

As a social worker, what matters most to me is these people; as the executive director of a small, state-licensed mental health counseling agency, I also care about the bottom line. So I’m grateful that this year, our legislators have another chance to bring those federal dollars to Maine. Because in addition to saving lives, that money will create as many as 4,400 new jobs and generate $50 million in economic activity by 2016, according to the Maine Center for Economic Policy.

It will ensure that the people who need mental health counseling will have a way to pay for it and that the counselors at my agency will get the referrals they need in order to keep the lights on.

Maine Equal Justice Partners estimates that for every $1 Maine spends on health care expansion between 2014 and 2016, it will get $62 back. That’s an incredible return on our investment. Compare that with the $1.76 Maine sees from the federal government for every dollar invested in roads and bridges, or the $4.57 it gets for every dollar spent on wastewater treatment, and you can see that this is really a no-brainer.

When you figure in the trickle down ramifications of those federal dollars — including the money health care businesses will spend on materials and equipment, and the money that those newly hired healthcare workers will spend on food, clothing and other goods and services in their communities — it adds up to an annual impact of $500 million. By accepting full funding from the federal government, we can provide access to health care to thousands of Mainers and impact Maine’s economy in a positive way.

On the other hand, refusing to accept those federal funds puts Maine at an economic disadvantage relative to states that do, putting hundreds of existing jobs at risk. This is clear in multiple studies that show the economic impact.

Last year, despite a strong campaign to secure enough Republican votes to override LePage’s veto, efforts failed in the final hours before session adjourned. The override failed by a very slim margin. Now, we have a second chance. Let’s not allow this opportunity to slip through our fingers. It’s good for Maine’s people, and it’s good for Maine.

You can help make sure this bill gets passed. It’s easy to find out who your legislators are and how to reach them online. Let them know why health care expansion is important to you.

Jennifer Lunden is a therapist and the founder and executive director of The Center for Creative Healing. She was Maine’s 2012 Social Worker of the Year.

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