March 24, 2019
Opinion Latest News | Mud Season | Bangor Metro | Robert Kraft | Today's Paper

Get real on job growth and expand Medicaid

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
A woman holds a sign at a rally and lobby day organized by the Maine Peoples Alliance at the State House in Augusta Wednesday, Jan. 8, around the issue of Medicaid expansion.

State lawmakers are approaching a new moment of reckoning on the decision to accept (or reject) federal funding to expand health coverage to 70,000 currently uninsured Mainers.

On one side, there’s a growing body of economic evidence supporting the expansion and thousands of personal stories about the brutal effects of a lack of health coverage. On the other side, there’s Gov. Paul LePage.

While the governor’s veto succeeded in blocking this expansion last year, new reports of Republican legislators’ willingness to strike a deal suggest the governor’s campaign against expanding health coverage is looking more like a losing crusade this time around. The growing momentum toward a deal is good news not only for uninsured Mainers but also for the state economy.

With the proposed expansion of MaineCare, 70,000 Maine residents who are currently uninsured or have just lost their coverage because of LePage’s cuts would gain access to affordable health coverage. This coverage expansion would be funded almost entirely by the federal government — 100 percent through 2016 and not less than 90 percent in years after that. From a budgetary perspective, this is a fire sale steal for the state.

The high federal match is not only a great deal for the state budget, it also means the injection of federal funds for the coverage expansion will fuel serious job creation in Maine. A recent report from the Maine Center for Economic Policy pegged the number of jobs supported by accepting the federal funds and implementing the coverage expansion at 4,000-4,400 jobs by 2016, along with $450 million to $515 million in annual economic activity.

But that’s not the end of the story. The Alliance for a Just Society released a new report this week showing that accepting the federal funds to expand health coverage won’t create just any jobs but high-wage, economy-boosting jobs – exactly the kind Maine needs.

The report examines wage and jobs data from the Maine Department of Labor’s Center for Workforce Research & Information, comparing jobs that will be created through the health coverage expansion to living wage levels from AJS’s 2013 Maine Job Gap Report and overall wage levels across the state economy.

Prior research had already established that while the injection of federal funds will create jobs across the state economy, more than half of the jobs will be in Maine’s health care industry. The new report highlights that jobs in Maine’s health care industry are well-paying jobs.

Indeed, markedly more health care jobs pay living wages than the state’s economywide figures, with two-thirds of health care openings in the higher-paying health practitioner and technical fields. Here’s a look at some of the bottom line numbers:

Just 48 percent of all projected job openings in Maine pay median wages above a living wage ($15.18 per hour) for a single adult, but 67 percent of health care openings and 88 percent of health practitioner and technical openings do.

And while just 35 percent of projected job openings economywide pay median wages above a living wage ($18.87 per hour) for a married adult with two children, 59 percent of health care openings and 83 percent of health practitioner and technical openings do.

The well-paying jobs created through the health coverage expansion will be sustaining jobs for families in Maine. These jobs will also generate a boost for local economies (through higher consumer spending) and for the state budget (through increased revenues). That’s why we call them economy-boosting jobs.

For any independent-minded lawmaker who cares more about creating good jobs and boosting the state economy than carrying water for the governor, the evidence is clear: Now would be a good time to put down that bucket, pick up a pen and add another name to the yes column for accepting the federal funds to expand health coverage in Maine.

Jesse Graham is executive director of the Maine People’s Alliance. LeeAnn Hall is executive director of the Alliance for a Just Society.


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