WASHINGTON — I was proud to vote for the Affordable Care Act, and it is continuing to make a real difference for Mainers.

This legislation was not perfect and should continually be reviewed for improvements. However, the landmark law’s reforms are giving patients and doctors more control over health decisions, and it’s well on its way to reducing the number of uninsured Americans.

But states have an important role to play in its continued success. Here in Maine, much of this depends on whether the state will accept the Medicaid expansion funding made possible through the ACA. And I think it’s long past time to work together to make the law the best it can be for Maine and the rest of the country.

Doing so could help expand and maintain health care for 69,500 Mainers – our neighbors, our friends and our families. The vast majority of people benefiting from the expansion are currently employed, but work in jobs that are low-wage and do not provide health insurance.

A diverse coalition of economic, veteran, small-business, health care, labor, religious and public interest organizations in Maine have banded together to support the funding, which has already been set aside for Maine’s use. This coalition is fighting for this because they know it will result in health insurance for thousands of Mainers, reduced health care costs and a boost to Maine’s economy.

The numbers on the economic front are particularly compelling. A recent report found that the Medicaid expansion could create approximately 3,100 jobs and promote more than $350 million in economic activity annually in Maine.

The report also found that it would improve worker productivity, promote a more competitive business climate and generate $16 million to $18 million in state and local revenue annually.

The state should accept the federal Medicaid funding. Expanding and maintaining health coverage for 69,500 Mainers is the morally right thing to do. It also makes good business sense for all the reasons I previously mentioned. 

Passing up this funding would be a terrible mistake – it’s literally an issue of life and death for some Mainers who are struggling without health care.

The Medicaid program has flexibility for states built into it, and that’s something I support. But in this specific case, there is no rational explanation for the state’s unwillingness to accept these federal dollars, other than an entrenched ideological opposition to the Affordable Care Act. Ideology has its place, but it should never be the barrier between sick Mainers and the care they need to get well.

I believe those undecided on this issue would be well served by listening directly to the Mainers affected by this debate being had in Maine and Washington.

For example, I recently read a news story that featured Margie King of Cornish. She said that her family of six will lose MaineCare and will no longer be able to afford her husband’s heart medications and cardiologist appointments. The story went on to say that if Maine does not accept the federal funding, coverage for some families, such as King’s, would end in 2014.

In addition, I heard directly from a number of Mainers just this past week in Bangor who talked about the struggles of working in low-income jobs with no disposable income to afford health insurance, let alone anything else. These are precisely the hardworking people that this additional Medicaid funding was designed to help.

The stories of these Mainers really say it all. These are the people I had in mind as I cast my vote in favor of health insurance reform. I’m hopeful the governor and the full Legislature will do the same when they make their final decision on whether to accept this critical federal funding.

– Special to the Press Herald