Tens of thousands of Mainers have come together to ask Maine voters to approve an expansion of Maine’s Medicaid program (known as MaineCare) to more than 70,000 of their neighbors living in, or near, poverty.
Most who would qualify are working in low-wage jobs — jobs where health insurance is not offered or is unaffordable. The federal government would fund 90 percent of the cost for newly eligible Mainers and would transform the lives of thousands of people barely getting by, through giving them access to affordable health care.
Expansion of Medicaid, Question 2 on November’s statewide ballot, will help Maine’s hospitals and health centers and the economy at large with over $500 million in new federal funds every year. It’s such a win-win deal that 31 other states have expanded Medicaid (and not one has withdrawn from the program). These states have reported huge benefits, including lower uninsured rates and improved economies. Republican, Democratic and independent governors have not only signed off on Medicaid expansion, but also continue to defend it.
Not Gov. Paul LePage. He has consistently fought Medicaid expansion with a series of false or misleading statements. He is guaranteeing that Maine taxpayers won’t reap the full benefit of their federal tax dollars as other states draw down job-creating and health care-providing federal funds while we forgo such funding here.
The governor’s misguided treatment of Maine taxpayers goes even further. His Department of Health and Human Services commissioned a conservative organization to run an analysis of the program that independent experts said contained miscalculations and exaggerations. That same organization had to repay the state hundreds of thousands of dollars for submitting plagiarized work.
Recent administration statements on Medicaid expansion appear to use the same approach. It’s not surprising, then, that the Maine Heritage Policy Center’s recent commentary in this newspaper is full of misinformation. One of the conveniently overlooked facts about Maine’s prior expansion efforts is the degree to which we bucked national trends in terms of maintaining health coverage for Maine people. Comparing the current Medicaid expansion effort to Maine’s experience 15 years ago is like comparing the Apple Watch to the first iPod. Today’s opportunity to expand coverage, with the federal commitment to higher funding levels, makes it very different.
Rather than relitigating the past, we should be looking to other states for the evidence of Medicaid expansion’s success and its potential for Maine. Here are some facts:
• Medicaid expansion increases access to affordable care. In Maine, one in five low-income people has to put off seeing a doctor because they can’t afford the cost.
• Low-income Americans with Medicaid coverage are more likely to have a primary care doctor, more likely to receive preventive screenings and more likely to report being in good health than those without insurance.
• One-third of Maine nonelderly adults has an unpaid medical bill. From 2012 to 2015, the share of adults with unpaid medical bills fell nearly twice as fast in states that expanded Medicaid as it did in non-expansion states.
• Medicaid expansion will bring hundreds of millions of dollars into the state each year, and create or preserve thousands of good-paying jobs in health care and related sectors.
• Maine’s hospitals are under great financial stress, primarily because of recent cuts to MaineCare coverage. Hospitals in Medicaid expansion states have seen a 40 percent reduction in their levels of uncompensated care. At that rate, Maine hospitals would save $188 million.
Opponents of Medicaid expansion have no new arguments to offer, so they are resorting to fighting over the past. The evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of Medicaid expansion, so opponents rely on alternative facts, distortions and misrepresentations. It won’t work.
Mainers care for their neighbors, and look out for one another – and they know a tall tale when they hear one. A yes vote on Question 2 this Nov. 7 is a vote for jobs, for care, and for facts over fear.
James Myall is the lead policy analyst on health care for the Maine Center for Economic Policy.