This week marked an important step forward in our fight to extend access to health care to more Mainers. The Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee is considering a bill to accept the federal government’s offer to expand health care to nearly 70,000 Mainers, including 3,000 veterans.

As you may remember, last session the Legislature twice passed bills to accept this deal, but twice the governor vetoed the bills, denying and delaying health care to tens of thousands of our friends and neighbors.

Under this proposal, the federal government agreed to pay 100 percent of costs of expansion for the first three years, then gradually ratchet down to no less than 90 percent of the cost by 2020.

Not only would this funding provide much-needed health insurance to nearly 70,000 Mainers, it would save Maine $690 million over the next 10 years and boost the economy by $250 million.

As of Jan. 1, nearly 25,000 Mainers, including about 15,000 working parents whose children depend on them to go to work each day, lost their health care. Many do not receive health insurance from their employer, and they do not make enough to afford health insurance through the new marketplace, even with the subsidies available.

These are people like Peter Miller, a low- wage worker from Ellsworth who requires weekly treatments for his asthma and a blood clot. Peter doesn’t receive health care through his work, and he can’t afford to purchase health insurance on his own. Without health care, Peter cannot afford the necessary medical attention for his chronic health needs. Inevitably, the last option will be admittance to a hospital, the most expensive way to receive health care. The end result is unnecessary suffering and expenses for all. Peter, like many others, is stuck in a scary position ”“ a position we easily could have avoided had we accepted federal funds to expand access to health care.

As the chair of the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee and a veteran of the National Guard, I am especially saddened that there are thousands of veterans here in Maine who do not have health insurance, but could, if we would accept this funding.

These are veterans like Thomas Ptacek of Portland, a veteran of the U.S. Navy. His family has a history of multiple sclerosis, and Thomas is worried he may have MS one day. His benefits from the VA are limited and won’t cover the cost of preventive care or any treatment for the disease. 

Without access to health insurance, Mainers like these men and thousands more just like them cannot afford to get the care they need when they need it.

Every Maine family deserves a family doctor, and no one should be denied health care because they cannot afford it, or fear that they will go bankrupt because of a medical emergency. 

Now more than ever, it is critical for Maine to accept federal funds to expand health care. We should not allow politics to stand in the way of health care for those who need it most. Gov. LePage must put aside partisanship and political games and stop delaying and denying health care to tens of thousands of Mainers. There is simply too much at stake.

— Senator John Tuttle is serving his first term in the Senate representing the people of Alfred, Limington, Lyman, Sanford and Waterboro. He is the Senate chairman of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, and also serves on the Judiciary Committee. He holds weekly office hours on Sundays from 1-3 p.m. at this home, 176 Cottage St. in Sanford.

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