Last week, our Legislature upheld Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a bill to extend health care coverage to almost 70,000 low- and middle-income Mainers.

Most of these people work full time but are unable to afford health insurance for themselves and their families.

The federal government would have paid 100 percent of the of expansion for the first three years, with the amount tapering down to no less than 90 percent by 2021.

In addition, 10,000 Mainers who now are slated to lose all health coverage on Jan. 1 would have been fully covered by this program. The end result is that 70,000 people will now treat the hospital emergency room as their primary health care provider, at a cost of millions of dollars to both hospitals and consumers.

LePage’s veto did not save Maine taxpayers one cent. If anything, our health care costs will increase because emergency room care is far more expensive than seeing a family doctor and getting access to preventative care. While other states have done the smart thing by accepting federal health care dollars, here in Maine we will miss the benefit of having less expensive and more comprehensive health care for 70,000 of our neighbors.

In Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer, a conservative Republican, saw the benefit of accepting federal health care dollars. In fact, she brought all state business to a halt until the Arizona Legislature approved the expansion of health care to hundreds of thousands of her citizens. She put ideology aside and acted in the best interests of her state.

The same scenario played out in Iowa, New Jersey, Florida, Michigan and Ohio.

The actions of our governor and too many of my Republican colleagues in the Legislature are mind-boggling. They claimed to be concerned about the needs of 3,100 disabled citizens and seniors who are on a wait list for much needed, mostly nonmedical services, and used that as a basis to deny basic health care to 70,000 citizens, including the elderly, veterans and other low-income hard-working people.

Let’s work together to make sure that the seniors and individuals with disabilities on the wait lists and low-income Mainers get the services they need.

Before we started debating this bill, the governor and his allies in the Legislature had said very little about the 3,100 disabled and elderly Mainers on a wait list for services in addition to the basic MaineCare they already receive. In fact, those very lawmakers were the ones responsible for stranding these people on a waiting list when they held the majority two years ago. And they have no real plan to help them now.

These 3,100 people were just used to distract the rest of us from their absurd vote against better health care coverage that will benefit so many people and give Maine’s economy a lift.

If you are one of the 70,000 Mainers who will have no health care because of the actions of LePage and some, but not all, legislative Republicans, you need to hold them responsible.

The rest of us receive no benefit by denying these people health care. We will pay higher health care costs for emergency room care that these people will eventually need when they develop chronic health conditions because they couldn’t afford a basic visit to the doctor.

Some Republicans took a courageous stand for the 70,000 people the bill would have helped.

I feel lucky to serve alongside Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, who stood up to a lot of pressure from within his own party and even offered a compromise amendment that brought the Legislature within two votes of an override.

Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, also showed his independence by voting to override.

I’ll be the first to admit that there are some programs Maine simply cannot afford. During my first term as a legislator, I have followed my conscience and the needs of my constituents, bucking my party on a number of occasions.

The expansion of health care, however, is a program we cannot afford to pass up. When the Legislature reconvenes in January, Democrats will introduce an emergency bill to accept federal health care dollars.

Better health care at a lower cost, paid for by the federal government, is a good deal for all Mainers. The alternative embraced by the governor and some of his allies is reckless and unfortunate. And it will cost us dearly in the end.

Rep. Lori Fowle is serving her first term in the Maine House and represents Vassalboro, Windsor and part of Augusta.

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