At the polls in November, 59 percent of Maine voters approved Medicaid expansion. Prior Maine Legislatures voted five times to expand Medicaid, only to have the governor veto it each time. This time a veto is not an option, nor is simply ignoring the people’s vote by either not implementing or not funding the law.

Medicaid expansion is the now law, and the timeline for implementing that law is spelled out in both the Maine Constitution and the law itself. The governor has 90 days from the start of the current legislative session, Jan. 3, to submit a plan to the federal government to implement Medicaid expansion. Also, Maine must begin accepting applications from newly qualified recipients within 180 days on July 2.

When the U.S. Supreme Court made Medicaid expansion optional for states, it created an insurance gap for tens of thousands of Mainers who do not qualify for pre-expansion Medicaid and who don’t earn enough to qualify for help on the marketplace. Expanding Medicaid will provide health care for individuals making less than about $16,700, or a family of four making less than about $34,000 a year.

Expanding Medicaid in Maine will also:

• Reduce the $100 million in free health care hospitals have been giving to uninsured people;

• Add more than $500 million of federal money to the state’s economy each year;

• Save Maine $27 million in current state-funded health care expenses;

• Provide complete health care to those who were formerly uninsured;

• Keep private insurance premiums down;

• Create more than 3,000 jobs statewide;

• Make Maine citizens safer and healthier;

• Reduce the loss of productivity from illness;

• Financially stabilize hospitals and community clinics;

• Increase access to local clinics, especially for rural citizens;

• Reduce expensive emergency room visits;

• Provide health care for working families who can’t afford coverage;

• And reduce drug related crime and deaths.

Medicaid expansion will save lives. It has political support from legislators of all political parties, because they know it will save lives and improve our economy. Additionally, all of their constituents are already paying to help fund Obamacare, and some low-wage earners are getting nothing for their hard-earned dollars. Expanding Medicaid will remedy this injustice.

Medicaid expansion also has support from professionals who deal with people who don’t have health care: doctors, nurses, EMTs, paramedics, state police, local police, and addiction recovery experts. They support the measure because they too know it will save lives, and reduce substance abuse and crime from those who need mental health or substance abuse treatment.

Opponents think expanding Medicaid is too expensive. They will argue that Maine doesn’t have money in the budget to “give away.” The truth is everyone who is eligible is not going to apply for Medicaid on July 2, let alone get services. There is likely enough money in the general fund right now to pay for the expected increase in Medicaid recipients this year.

Resistance to funding and implementing the new law is high in the LePage administration. While this Legislature failed to implement fully any of the four most recent ballot questions the voters passed in November 2016, this is different. The policy has been tested and Maine people overwhelmingly want this.

Fortunately, it seems policymakers from both parties seem to understand the importance of implementing Medicaid expansion as soon as possible. If the governor fails to implement Medicaid expansion, there are several progressive, people-centered advocacy organizations that will, as a last resort, present legal challenges on behalf of the Maine people.

Additionally, Speaker of the House Sara Gideon went on record in support of Medicaid expansion by saying; “Any attempts to illegally delay or subvert this law will not be tolerated and will be fought with every resource at our disposal. Mainers demanded affordable access to health care (and) that is exactly what we intend to deliver.”

That is exactly what Maine people want and expect of all our policy makers, including the governor. I urge you to reach out to your state legislators and remind them how important it is that they and the governor listen to the voters. Ask them to tell the governor and his administration to implement the law as soon as possible so that Maine people can start getting the health care coverage they have waited so long for.

Tom Waddell is the president of the Maine chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: