March 14, 2013

Another View: Medicaid expansion could improve care, prevent crime

Earlier help for people who have behavioral health issues could make a big difference.

By KEVIN JOYCE

In regard to your editorial on health-care policy ("Our View: Maine missing out by not expanding Medicaid," March 3): From my perspective as a law enforcement executive, there are good arguments for why our state should utilize the federal dollars to allow more Mainers to have access to basic health coverage through Medicaid.

In addition to the economic and health status benefits discussed recently on the editorial page, I believe this coverage of low-income families has a community-wide impact as well by helping us prevent crime and violence.

There is no question that early screening and treatment for emotional, behavioral and mental health problems are critical to the well-being of both individuals and our community.

Uncovering these problems and treating them early saves a lot of potential heartache and suffering -- and crime -- down the road, which my officers then have to confront. We know that proven medical treatments for aggression or substance-abuse problems can cut new arrests in half compared to troubled youths in families randomly assigned to not receive such help.

The net savings average anywhere from $25,000 to more than $30,000 per child served. With Medicaid, children can -- and should -- get the better screening and treatment they need to turn their lives around.

As a result, I strongly support making sure we do all we can to access the federal dollars Mainers are entitled to -- and are paying for -- to ensure that low-income families have the health and mental health coverage they need to keep themselves and their families healthy and to prevent crime.

Kevin Joyce is sheriff of Cumberland County.

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