December 12, 2017
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Medicaid expansion gives Maine a chance to address inequality in health care

By Jeffrey Graham, Special to the BDN
Updated:
George Danby | BDN
George Danby | BDN

In his remarks to the 1966 Medical Committee for Human Rights, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhuman.”

More than 40 years later, we have an opportunity to address this inequality by expanding access to Medicaid by voting yes on Question 2 this November.

A “yes” vote on Question 2 will provide health care coverage to 70,000 Mainers, and it will help to make sure that no one has to choose between seeing a health care provider when they’re sick and going without food.

I am a doctor and consultant, and I work at C.A. Dean Hospital in Greenville, the smallest hospital in the state.

We see many patients who receive care through Medicaid, many of whom have serious illnesses. Without Medicaid, they wouldn’t be able to afford the primary care they need to avoid potential hospitalization and trips to the emergency room.

For example, one 64-year-old patient couldn’t afford health insurance, but because Maine has failed to expand Medicaid, he also didn’t qualify for coverage there. When he came to the hospital, he appeared to have incurable prostate cancer.

Without health insurance, he is having trouble even getting a biopsy.

There’s simply no excuse for this, particularly when we have the opportunity to expand Medicaid.

Hospitals are the cornerstones of their communities, along with local schools and churches. Not only do they provide critical services, they are often one of the top local employers.

Hospitals in Maine, and particularly rural hospitals, are hurting. They are having trouble making ends meet. Medicaid expansion could help.

Expanding Medicaid would bring $500 million new federal dollars per year into the state and create more than 3,000 health care jobs. This federal investment would help to strengthen and protect hospitals around the state, and ensure that they continue to serve their communities.

These are people like Adam Foley in Bangor, who falls into the coverage gap. He currently doesn’t qualify for Medicaid, but he doesn’t earn enough to qualify for a subsidy to help purchase insurance through the marketplace. I met Adam earlier this year at an event in Bangor.

And Kathleen Phelps from Winslow. She works as a hairdresser, but she still can’t afford health insurance and goes without care she needs. She’s too young for Medicare and doesn’t qualify for Medicaid.

These folks and thousands more like them would benefit from Medicaid expansion. That’s why the Maine Medical Association endorsed Question 2.

Adam and Kathy aren’t unique. Most of the people who will be covered under Medicaid expansion are working, but don’t get coverage from their employer, either because they work multiple part-time jobs and aren’t eligible for the insurance their employer offers or simply because the employer isn’t offering health insurance.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

With one vote, we can ensure thousands of Maine families will no longer be forced to roll the dice on their health. They will have access to preventive care and coverage for medical emergencies. Most importantly, they will have peace of mind.

Expanding Medicaid to individuals making about $16,000 per year protects our state’s most vulnerable residents — mothers and hard-working families often working two jobs to put food on the table. Medicaid expansion creates more secure and healthier families.

There is strong support for Medicaid expansion in the Legislature, where Republicans, Democrats and independents think it’s the right thing to do.

In fact, 31 other states and the District of Columbia — states lead by Republicans and Democrats — have expanded Medicaid in order to increase the number of people who have health care coverage. Not a single state has dropped expansion.

In states that have expanded Medicaid, insurance premiums on the private market have grown more slowly and there have been reductions in uninsured emergency room visits. Expansion helps to hold down costs for everyone who buys insurance.

One final point: Medicaid expansion could also help us address the opioid epidemic.

Right now, we are losing more than one person per day to drug overdoses. Medicaid expansion could help provide care and treatment to low-income Mainers struggling with opioid addiction and mental health issues.

Come Election Day, with a yes vote on Question 2, Mainers have a chance to provide life-saving care to tens of thousands of people and to strengthen our state’s economy. Vote yes on Question 2 for a stronger, healthier Maine.

Dr. Jeffrey Graham lives in Glenburn.


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