Tom Ptacek served his country in the U.S. Navy, proudly wearing the uniform and doing his part to defend our freedoms.
This winter, Ptacek lost access to affordable health insurance, and today is paying the price for bad policy decisions made in Augusta.
Ptacek isn’t alone.
Unfortunately, 2,700 veterans like Ptacek and tens of thousands of other Mainers have no health care right now simply because of politics.
Last year, Gov. Paul LePage and his allies in the Legislature turned down an unprecedented opportunity from the federal government to fully fund health care coverage for nearly 70,000 Mainers, including Ptacek.
Now, lawmakers have an opportunity to right that wrong. The Legislature is debating a new, bipartisan plan to cover those individuals.
Sponsored by Republican Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta, it’s a good-faith compromise that would accept federal dollars to provide life-saving health care to 70,000 Mainers.
We have an opportunity to change lives for the better and improve the health of thousands of our neighbors. It’s the right thing to do.
But the benefits of expanding access to health care reach far beyond the folks who would gain coverage. The plan also would add $500 million in economic activity to our state’s economy while saving and creating 4,500 new jobs.
As part of the bipartisan plan for life-saving health care, we’ve made every effort to address concerns raised throughout the debate.
The plan includes changes to lower the cost of health care and hold government and providers accountable for making sure people have access to appropriate care at an appropriate time, while also ensuring fair prices.
The compromise also reduces the waiting list for home care services for Mainers with intellectual disabilities, and adds two new Medicaid fraud investigators to step up fraud prosecutions.
Despite all the efforts to collaborate across the aisle to help the people of Maine and boost our economy, LePage and his allies have used every opportunity to block progress and bully the bill’s supporters. They are driven by extreme ideology and a strident unwillingness to compromise, even if it’s what’s best for the people they represent.
Their top priority is to deny health care to 70,000 Maine people.
In a March 7 op-ed in the Morning Sentinel, Senate Minority Leader Sen. Michael Thibodeau suggested low-income Mainers ignore federal law and falsify their income in order to qualify for subsidies to purchase private insurance on the federal health care exchange.
That’s wrong, and it puts already vulnerable people at risk.
The federal exchange was created under the Affordable Care Act to allow small business and individuals to increase their purchasing power for health insurance. However, only individuals with certain income levels can qualify. Those below the 100 percent federal poverty level — or less than $11,490 per year — are not eligible for the exchange. Those folks can get health care only if we accept federal Medicaid dollars to cover them.
The so-called “alternative” is a false and dangerous smoke screen that would leave tens of thousands of our poorest Mainers behind.
While political pressure in the State House mounts, Medicaid expansion has consistently had broad public support.
And day after day, we hear the stories about Mainers who struggle with medical bills and an uncertain future. They can’t understand why lawmakers would allow politics to get in the way of life-saving health care.
The bipartisan compromise health care plan is a win for Maine people. That’s why business leaders, doctors, nurses, hospitals and working families from all walks of life support it. It has been endorsed by the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal, Morning Sentinel, Lewiston Sun Journal and Bangor Daily News.
No one should have to face bankruptcy or lose their homes because they face a medical crisis.
Lawmakers should seize the opportunity to come together around a good-faith compromise to ensure Maine families can have access to a family doctor.
Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, is speaker of the Maine House of Representatives.