AUGUSTA — Despite working hard every day, too many Maine people are just one illness or one accident away from financial ruin because they lack access to quality, affordable health care coverage.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

The Affordable Care Act makes federal funds available to expand access to health insurance to 69,500 Mainers, a majority of whom have jobs but either can’t afford health insurance or could soon lose it.

But the opportunity goes well beyond helping thousands of people to have access to health care. It also has far-reaching benefits for our economy and quality of life.

A new analysis by Maine Equal Justice Partners and the Maine Center for Economic Policy shows that by 2016, Maine will receive about $250 million in new federal dollars a year if the governor and Legislature agree to take the state’s allotted federal dollars.

These funds will ripple through Maine’s economy. They will pay hospitals, physicians, pharmacists, mental health counselors and other health care providers.

Health care businesses will use these funds to purchase materials and equipment and to pay the salaries of doctors, nurses, health aides, administrative personnel and others. In turn, these individuals will use their wages to purchase food, clothing and other goods and services in their community.

Our analysis shows that the combined effect of this chain of events will yield significant and measurable economic activity. It will create more than 3,100 new jobs and stimulate more than $350 million in annual economic activity by 2016. It will increase state and local revenues by close to $18 million a year.

Just imagine if a large company called the governor’s office and said, “Have we got a deal for you. We’ll locate 3,100 jobs in your state – if … .” And in this case, the “if” is whether you will accept $250 million in federal funds.

Accepting these funds to increase coverage will also help to reduce the growth of health insurance premiums for people who have coverage now.

People with health insurance can see a doctor when they get sick, better manage chronic conditions like asthma and diabetes, get the right care at the right time and not rely on the emergency room, the costliest alternative. National estimates indicate that the increased health coverage the federal funding makes possible will save the average American family $1,000 a year on their insurance premiums.

The case for accepting federal funds is strong. The federal government will pay 100 percent of the costs for three years and 90 percent after that for all newly eligible individuals.

In fact, Maine is actually one of eight states expected to save state money by accepting federal funds. According to the Washington, D.C.-based Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, Maine could save $690 million between now and 2022.

Because Congress has already set aside the money, if the governor and Legislature do not accept federal funds, Maine taxpayers will help pay for health coverage in other states, while forgoing the potential benefit of these dollars here in Maine.

States around the country, including those with conservative governors such as Ohio, New Jersey, Florida and Arizona, have recognized the opportunity they have to help working families become more secure. We are encouraged that Gov. LePage announced recently that he’ll initiate discussions with the federal government to explore this opportunity for Maine.

Expanding access to affordable health care to thousands of our people in our communities makes dollars and sense for Maine. It will create jobs, boost Maine’s economy and provide health care to thousands of hardworking Maine people. Accepting federal funds to increase health coverage is a bargain Maine cannot afford to pass up.

 

- Special to the Press Herald