PORTLAND — We have a historic opportunity to provide health care for 70,000 Maine residents, paid for at 100 percent by the federal government for three years and, if we choose to continue, at 90 percent after that.

Conservative politicians have put forward several arguments in the last few weeks in an attempt to stop the state from accepting these federal funds. Gov. LePage’s team has invested heavily in the effort to prevent Maine citizens from obtaining health care, most recently by commissioning the politically motivated Alexander Report at a cost of $925,000 to Maine taxpayers. The time and energy invested are not worth the effort.

Let’s not dance around the issue. Those opposed to accepting federal dollars for Medicaid expansion want to deny already disadvantaged low-income residents access to health care because it would be provided by the federal government.

One argument we have heard is that we should not accept federal funding because we cannot trust the federal government. Conservative lawmakers have argued that the federal government just won’t make good on promised funding because the federal government is simply not trustworthy.

By this logic, we should not accept federal funding for anything – ever. We may as well refuse all federal dollars for education, transportation or disaster relief or matching funds for any bond issue – period.

I seriously doubt that those who are in favor of refusing health care dollars would reject funding for other purposes. To wit, Gov. LePage recently requested disaster relief funding for December’s ice storm. If it is OK to ask for federal reimbursement for salt and sand, then Gov. LePage should be willing to accept federal funding to save the lives of Maine residents by expanding Medicaid.

We have also heard that the money is not there. Opponents have argued that the federal government simply does not have the funding to provide the state of Maine with Medicaid expansion funds. They have gone as far as to claim that U.S. debt to China and federal tax increases justify refusing federal funding for health care.

It is not Maine’s responsibility to fix the federal government. The fact is that whatever the federal government’s financial status may be, it is not within Maine’s purview to control, and we are not going to solve the federal government’s debt problems at the State House in Augusta. There is no reason to believe our state will not receive promised funding. Twenty-four other states have already accepted federal Medicaid expansion dollars.

Opponents often talk about how our state’s Medicaid program has a waiting list and how now is not the time to add more residents to the program. This is why we need to expand the program so that more folks who need it can enroll. The compromise bill would buy down and eventually eliminate the waiting list.

Lastly, we have heard that the state of Maine cannot afford it. Accepting these federal funds would create approximately 3,000 jobs throughout the state. What town or city in Maine couldn’t use more jobs?

The 70,000 people who are not currently insured would be able to go to a doctor on a preventative basis rather than to the emergency room in a medical crisis. This would save millions of dollars annually. From a business perspective, we can’t afford to not pass this bill.

Let’s not forget that the compromise bill requires reauthorization of the legislation after three years and that federal funding must be paid at 100 percent for the entire three years, or we can opt out. The state of Maine is being offered a huge federal government check, and all we have to do is cash it. Why would we equivocate over whether or not to cash this check?

We have a historic opportunity this year to do the right thing. Let’s not waste it by grasping at straws to do the wrong thing. We are talking about real, average, everyday, working people whose well-being and livelihoods depend on health care coverage.

When we debate Medicaid expansion in the Legislature, I will be calling on my colleagues to get to the heart of the issue rather than shroud it in rhetoric that does not pass the straight-face test. Let’s not pretend this is an issue of federal funding not being reliable. We all know better than that.

— Special to the Press Herald