In the last week of the session, the Maine Legislature passed LD 1578, an act that would once again attempt to make Maine the last state in New England to take advantage of the Affordable Care Act by insuring 70,000 residents, many of whom would otherwise be ineligible for coverage — even under the new health care law. Gov. Paul LePage has vetoed the bill, and the Legislature is meeting Thursday to consider an override.
The plan all along had been for states to accept Medicaid expansion to cover poor individuals as part of the ACA. To date, Maine is the last holdout on Medicaid expansion in New England, even though an overwhelming majority of voters in Maine and elsewhere support this expansion.
This latest version of the expansion would result in private health insurance plans being purchased for childless adults. Some 55,000 childless adults would be transitioned from the Medicaid bridge program to the Marketplace Premium Assistance program if CMS approves the Section 1115 waiver that Maine would be required to submit prior to transitioning people to the new program.
Having 55,000 of the 70,000 eligible individuals covered under private health insurance would significantly increase overall coverage in Maine. The remaining 15,000 individuals are parents who would remain on Medicaid along with their children for continuity of care. To a reasonable person, this public-private collaboration is a win-win solution for those who need coverage and for those who want to keep health care in the private marketplace. And these are federal dollars we are talking about!
As a private citizen who has seen his good health care coverage become increasingly expensive in large part due to the need to treat the uninsured, I hope and pray that this compromise legislation can survive the governor’s short-sighted veto. It makes absolutely no economic sense for the uninsured to use expensive emergency rooms as primary care medical offices, or to possibly withhold doctors’ visits until their conditions become critical, painful and costly to treat (if treatable at all).
As executive director of the Maine Council of Churches, I can say without a doubt that our nine mainline denominations are of one mind about this issue. It is morally and ethically indefensible to withhold medical coverage from those who need it, especially when a solution has been made available. As humans, we have a fundamental obligation to help those less fortunate than ourselves. As citizens, we are to use every available means to care for one another.
We Christians have just celebrated Easter. In the third chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, St. Peter encounters a lame beggar near the temple gate. The solution of the citizens of that town was to lug this poor guy to the gate of the temple so that he could spend his day begging. Peter, empowered by a risen Christ, utters the famous words, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” The man is cured, and leaping and dancing, he gives thanks.
I am keenly aware and appreciative of the separation of church and state. But when we church types keep hammering at the issue of health care coverage, it is important to know that we do so because finding ways of healing others is a mandate that comes with the call to follow the risen Christ. Caring for the sick is not on its face a religious or Christian issue alone, but we Christians take our lead from the one who lifted up the poor and disadvantaged, often with the gift of good health. Like Peter, we must follow in the steps of a healing Jesus when addressing access to health care.
This issue will not simply go away if the governor’s veto stands. Uninsured people will pack our emergency rooms tomorrow and the next day. Some will remain very sick and hopeless. If this veto stands, then a moral bankruptcy has overwhelmed us, and that would be shameful.
In Maine, people of faith will not go away either, and I can assure you that we, the members of the Maine Council of Churches, will use our voices and our very breath to keep advocating for fairness in our health care system.
The Rev. Dr. William M. Barter is executive director of the Maine Council of Churches.