May 18, 2013

Maine Voices: Medicaid expansion funds will benefit older uninsured Mainers

More than 16,000 Mainers age 50 to 64 lack coverage because they've lost jobs or have jobs with no benefits.

By MARION PAWLEK

KITTERY POINT - The time for a decision is fast approaching. The Maine Legislature soon will decide whether Maine will accept millions of dollars of federal aid under the Affordable Care Act to offer health insurance to 69,500 uninsured Mainers.

Our policymakers should make it a priority to put politics aside and do the right thing: Take the money.

Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government will pay the entire cost of covering newly eligible individuals for three years beginning in 2014 and 90 percent starting in 2020. This would provide health care coverage to thousands of Maine residents who would otherwise be uninsured in 2014. It is important to emphasize that these are federal dollars already set aside for the state of Maine to expand health care. 

By accepting the federal funds, Maine can help hardworking people who have lost their health insurance get Medicaid health coverage if their incomes are less than approximately $15,000 a year, or 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

Through this measure, 69,500 Maine people who are not currently insured could qualify for health care coverage, including the more than 16,300 Mainers ages 50 to 64 who have lost their jobs or are working in jobs without health benefits. 

Unexpectedly losing a job is tough at the best of times, but studies show that it takes longer for older workers to re-enter the job force compared to their younger counterparts.

Once they lose their jobs, older workers face unemployment lasting, on average, more than a year. That may represent a whole year of mounting debt and health concerns that many will leave untreated because they cannot afford to go to their own doctor.

Leaving people uninsured without access to primary and preventive care can put at risk even those who have made the most thoughtful preparation for health and financial security in later life. 

By accepting federal funds to expand Medicaid, the state can provide access to both primary and preventive care such as medical screenings and treatment for chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease.

This means that 69,500 people will have access to the care they need that will keep them from getting sick in the first place. With access to affordable coverage, residents will be less likely to seek care in an emergency room which, in most cases, is the most expensive way to receive health care.

Further, accepting federal funds to expand health care coverage makes sense regarding the hospital settlement issue. 

Expanding Medicaid is good for the long-term sustainability of fiscal health for Maine's hospitals since, through this measure, the need for charity care will go down. If Maine does not accept these federal dollars, our hospitals will continue to lose money.

This is the time for Maine people to make their voices heard on this critical issue. More than 85 organizations in the state of Maine have come together under one name to show their support for accepting these federal dollars.

The Cover Maine Now! Coalition at www.covermainenow.com represents organizations from across the state: businesses, nonprofits, faith-based organizations and civic groups, all of whom believe this is the right thing to do for Maine right now. The coalition hopes that Mainers will voice their opinion on this important matter by urging their legislators to accept the federal funding available to extend affordable health coverage. 

Providing health care coverage to more Maine people makes sense both for the health of Maine residents and for the state's economy. This should not be a political issue.

Our Legislature and our governor should put politics aside and do what is best for Maine people. They should support expanding affordable health care services by accepting federal funds for Medicaid.

Marion Pawlek of Kittery Point is a member of the Executive Council of AARP Maine.

 

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