On June 19, the Maine Legislature failed to override the governor’s veto of LD 1066: An Act to Increase Access to Health Coverage and Qualify Maine for Federal Funding. This bill would have allowed Maine to accept federal funds to provide MaineCare coverage to approximately 65,000 individuals — 55,000 of which would have been paid for entirely by federal funds for the next three years.
Turning away this opportunity and funding that other states across the country are taking advantage of denies tens of thousands of hardworking, low-income Mainers the medical coverage and security they deserve. Additionally, almost 25,000 Mainers who currently have MaineCare benefits will lose their coverage on Dec. 31.
We applaud the members of the Legislature who voted in support of the compromise legislation. It is deeply troubling, however, that many of our elected leaders turned their back on these low-income workers and their families.
Moving forward, our lawmakers need to identify ways to strengthen and support our fellow Mainers, rather than choosing to remove the critical supports that enhance their ability to be productive contributors to the state’s economy. Maine has a long and rich history of its people with differing backgrounds, views and opinions coming together for the greater good and to solve the state’s most pressing issues. I am confident that our tradition of collaboration will be carried on even through these challenging times.
The moral and philosophical debate around this issue became understandably emotional and drew passion from both sides. However, the facts are clear: Maine’s health care costs will continue to rise due to shifting uncompensated care costs onto insurance premiums, businesses and the limited budgets of Maine families. The ripple effect will continue to drag down every other sector of Maine’s economy at a time when we can least afford it.
Despite the outcome of LD 1066 this session, hope remains for those seeking high-quality primary medical, dental and behavioral health services, regardless of income or insurance status through Maine’s network of Community Health Centers. Maine’s CHCs provide essential health care services for approximately 200,000 individuals, in 15 of 16 counties, and at more than 60 locations throughout the state.
From Fort Kent to York County — from Eastport to Bethel and in dozens of towns in between — the doors at Maine’s CHCs are open to everyone. We accept all MaineCare, Medicare, privately insured, underinsured and uninsured patients. In fact, we empower our patients to make important decisions about the care they receive by inviting them to serve on our respective boards and patient advisory councils. Each board of our CHCs is made up of at least 51 percent of its patients. It is a feature of our health home model that we are immensely proud of.
It is our mission to provide equal access to high-quality, affordable care — and we will not turn our back on our neighbors in need.
Vanessa Santarelli is CEO of the Maine Primary Care Association.