Maine’s failure to accept federal dollars to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act will damage the health of thousands of residents, deny the state’s economy millions of dollars in tax revenue and forgo more than 3,000 jobs that otherwise would be created, representatives of the Maine Medical Association, American Medical Association and AARP said Saturday.
Leaders of the three organizations spoke at a joint press conference as part of Maine Medical Association’s annual meeting, held Friday through Sunday at Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland.
They described the decision not to accept millions of federal dollars for additional Medicaid benefits as a missed opportunity to expand affordable health care in the state and boost Maine’s economy.
“It’s our money, we’ve paid into it, and the feds want to give it back to us,” said Rich Livingston, AARP’s Maine volunteer state president. “So far, we haven’t said yes.”
Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a Medicaid expansion bill in June, and a vote to override him in the Legislature fell short of the two-thirds majority needed, because many Republicans lawmakers also oppose expansion.
LePage has argued that the state would not be able to count on the federal government to cover the costs of expansion in the long run.
Livingston said declining the federal money places tens of thousands of Mainers, many of them between the ages of 50 and 64, into a “coverage gap.”
He said without the increased eligibility offered by the Medicaid expansion, health care will remain too expensive for many state residents even with the Affordable Care Act subsidy in place.
“These are hard-working Mainers,” he said. “Some have lost their jobs, others are in low-paying jobs that do not provide health insurance coverage.”
Livingston urged elected officials to accept the federal contribution for expanded Medicaid in 2014 to ensure the AARP’s 230,000 members in Maine and their families would have adequate medical coverage.
“We know of too many people in our state whose nest eggs have eroded because of their health care costs,” he said.
AARP National Policy Council member Neal Lane said there is a strong economic argument for expanding Medicaid in Maine.
Lane said research shows the expansion would stimulate more than $350 million in economic activity, create more than 3,100 jobs and generate $16 million to $18 million a year in state and local tax revenues.
“It would mean a special boost in economic activity in counties with a high density of health care jobs,” he said.
Lane said healthier workers who have coverage to prevent and treat illness and address chronic diseases such as asthma and diabetes are more likely to stay employed.
Expanded Medicaid coverage also would shift the cost of health care away from businesses and people with health insurance, he said.
“Across the country, the average insured family pays an extra $1,000 a year to share the cost of caring for the uninsured,” Lane said.
He said the only reason acceptance of federal Medicaid dollars isn’t “an open and shut case” is that the issue has turned into “a giant political football.”
Dr. Guy Raymond, a physician at Northern Maine Medical Center in Fort Kent and incoming president of the Maine Medical Association, said the association’s more than 4,000 members support full implementation of the Affordable Care Act, including the Medicaid expansion.
“As the medical director of the emergency room, I have seen firsthand how people may put off necessary care because they cannot afford it,” Raymond said.
J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 207-719-6390 or: