A soldier who took gallant action in combat and saved 157 lives would almost certainly be awarded the Medal of Honor. It’s not often that people are placed in such dire situations, where the choices they make can have such profound, life-or-death consequences.

Right now, however, the members of the Maine Legislature are facing exactly such a choice.

An evaluation released this week by researchers at Harvard and the City University of New York found that accepting federal funding to maintain and expand health care coverage in Maine will save between 31 and 157 lives in the first year alone. These figures are a conservative estimate, based on only half of those eligible actually accessing coverage.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about two hardworking Mainers, a farmer and a fisherman, who have recently had the health coverage they depended on pulled out from under them. If the state fails to accept federal funding, the physical and financial repercussions for them will be real and immediate.

Their personal stories are representative of all of the people who would benefit from MaineCare expansion, but they’re just anecdotal evidence. Thanks to this report, we now have additional, quantitative results that give us an idea of the scale of the suffering health care expansion could prevent.

It’s not just about lives saved. The research also shows that in just one year, expansion will allow 1,055 more at-risk Maine women age 50 to 64 to have mammograms and 1,862 more Mainers with diabetes to get treatment and insulin. This kind of preventative medicine will allow us to save limbs, stop cancers from spreading and improve the quality of Mainers’ lives while reducing health care system costs.

According to the study, accepting the federal funds will also reduce by 3,137 the number of Maine people with clinical depression in the first year. It’s hard to quantify or even conceive of the number of ways that reaching down and pulling these thousands of people out of mental blackness and despair would improve their lives and enrich our whole state.

The researchers also examined the financial strain that a lack of coverage could place on Maine people and found that, in one year, expansion would save 953 Mainers from facing catastrophic medical expenditures.

Picture a family you know. Now imagine them hit with bankruptcy because of injury or illness and all the reverberating difficulties that would cause. Now multiply that image by a thousand families in towns all over Maine, and we can start to understand the scale of relief that would flow from just this one benefit of expanded coverage.

These people’s lives aren’t being threatened by war. They aren’t at risk because of a natural disaster or a terrorist attack. What’s threatening them is political stubbornness and ideologically motivated delay.

As other independent studies have shown, there’s no financial argument for the state not to accept these funds. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, taking the money will save Maine $690 million over the next 10 years, on top of the health care it would provide. The Maine Center for Economic Policy estimates that accepting the funding would directly create 4,400 jobs, almost all of them well-paying, economy-boosting openings in health care professions.

In fact, the only study that has purported to show an overall financial cost to the state for health care expansion is one commissioned by Gov. LePage himself – one that purposefully ignores huge parts of the financial benefits of expanding coverage. On top of that, last week it was discovered to contain a $575 million multiplication error.

It can sometimes be hard to balance dollars spent versus lives saved, but here we don’t have to. We can improve state finances and improve health care outcomes at the same time, with the same policy. That’s why so many Republican, tea party governors in other states have already accepted federal funding.

Put into another context, 157 people is almost three times as many Mainers as have lost their lives in service in Iraq and Afghanistan. Preventing this much needless suffering and death is a clear moral imperative, no matter what your background in faith or philosophy.

Gov. LePage may never put aside his unreasoned opposition to accepting health care funds, but in the next few weeks the Legislature will once again be given a chance to overrule him. As the 151 members of the Maine House of Representatives gather to vote, I hope they take a look around the room and realize that for every seat in that chamber, a life is on the line.

Mike Tipping is a political junkie who works for the Maine People’s Alliance. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @miketipping