Layoffs happen in Maine. Mills have closed, MBNA has come and gone. More recently, Athenahealth has laid off 9% of its workforce nationwide, some of whom are our friends and neighbors in Belfast. When layoffs happen, hardworking Mainers lose their health insurance. These people are us: neighbors, children, parents, and friends.
Mainers have significant chronic health conditions: diabetes, cancer, asthma, depression, heart disease, COPD. In Penobscot County alone, 9.2 % of us (about 14,000 people) are diabetic and it’s likely that at least 500 of us have cancer at any given time. Tens of thousands of people have these and other chronic conditions that require ongoing medical care.
When Mainers lose coverage or cannot afford healthcare, health deteriorates rapidly. They soon present at the local emergency room for care. While hospitals must under law provide emergency treatment for people who cannot afford to pay for their care, the cost of that “free care” is paid by all of us in the form of increased taxes, higher insurance premiums, and higher family debt. We already pay for this care, yet this is the most expensive and least effective form of healthcare. It does not make sense to do it this way.
We already know what works better. With access to insurance, chronic conditions are controlled by your family doctor, costly hospital stays are avoided, and people can continue to work, care for families, and contribute to the economy. Expanding health insurance actually saves money.
Accepting the over $500 million in federal funds to kickstart MaineCare expansion will result in lower – not higher – costs to the state system and will expand coverage. It will not threaten existing coverage for the elderly or the disabled, as recent fear-mongering suggests.
- Medicaid expansion in Michigan brought a decrease in spending in Medicaid, increased employment in healthcare and related industries, and improved the state economy.
- Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont also expanded Medicaid and, as a result, have among the lowest uninsured rate in the country.
- Expansion will boost Maine’s economy: it is estimated to bring an increase of 3,000-6,000 jobs, generating between approximately $500-700 million in additional economic activity for the state.
- In Penobscot County alone, the Maine Center for Economic Policy projects an $89 million impact, propelled by the injection of $68 million in federal funding.
MaineCare expansion happens to be both good for the economy and the right thing to do. For our neighbor with diabetes, access to ongoing healthcare means she can get insulin to control her blood sugar and she avoids a host of bad outcomes from untreated diabetes. She doesn’t have to use the hospital emergency department for care. She can focus on her job search or employment retraining, pay taxes, support her family, and enjoy the quality of life she and her family deserve. Stress declines, health improves, and she can continue to be a productive member of her community.
For the young man who grew up in poverty, suffered childhood trauma, and is now in the grip of addiction, access to care means that he and his family can start the long process of reclaiming their lives. They have a chance to see his smile again, celebrate holidays together, be passionate about life, and thrive.
On November 7, Mainers have an opportunity to speak loudly and accept $500 million dollars in federal money to expand MaineCare. We have a chance to give our neighbors, children, parents, and friends access to care to treat their diabetes, cancer, addiction and asthma. We have a chance to reduce the overall costs to the system. We have a chance to expand coverage and grow our economy. We have a chance to do what is right, moral, and sensible. We have a chance to say that no Mainer will suffer unnecessarily and that we value all life.
Let’s do this together.
The following members of the Community Health Leadership Board – Penobscot Community Health Care, St. Joseph Healthcare, Community Health and Counseling Services, Eastern Area Agency on Aging, Penquis and the City of Bangor – with one voice, urge Mainers to vote “yes” on ballot Question 2 to expand MaineCare coverage in Maine.