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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Maine Should Join New England States to Extend Health Coverage to Low-Income Residents

Dee Mahan

As legislative sessions nationwide come to an end, a look at this map shows that every New England state has voted to expand Medicaid, extending health coverage to thousands of its low-income residents.

Except one: Maine.

At the start of the year, the map looked a little different. New Hampshire had also opted not to expand Medicaid. But during this legislative session, New Hampshire’s legislators worked to set aside their political differences. Its Democrat-controlled House and Republican-controlled senate sent Governor Hassan legislation to extend health insurance to New Hampshire’s low-income residents, which she signed into law. Beginning July 1, 2014, an estimated 50,000 uninsured New Hampshire residents who have no other option for health insurance will be eligible for Medicaid for the first time. It’s now time for Maine to follow suit.

Maine’s state legislators have voted four times to accept federal dollars and extend health coverage to more low-income residents by expanding Medicaid, but Governor LePage has vetoed the legislation every time. Even though the current legislative session is ending, the efforts to extend health coverage to low-income Mainers is far from over.

The top 4 reasons Maine should expand Medicaid

Just because the legislature has ended its session, it doesn’t mean the opportunity to extend Medicaid has ended. Maine can elect to expand Medicaid at any time—all that’s needed is the political will to get it done. Here are four reasons why Maine’s leadership should support Medicaid expansion:

  1. The federal government will pay for 100 percent of the costs of covering newly eligible individuals through 2016, with the federal share gradually declining to 90 percent of costs (where it stays) in 2020. The longer Maine delays, the longer it delays getting the maximum federal support under the law.
  2. Medicaid expansion in Maine will help create 4,400 new jobs and add an estimated $500 million to Maine’s economy.
  3. Medicaid expansion would mean health insurance for nearly 70,000 low-income, working Mainers (many of whom are not eligible for help to buy insurance through the new health insurance marketplace). Unless the state extends Medicaid coverage, these residents have no option for affordable health insurance. Without expanding Medicaid, Maine’s poorest working families are left behind.
  4. If Maine expands Medicaid, its hospitals anticipate a decrease in the cost of uncompensated care. This means Maine hospitals save overall, which makes for a stronger health system for everyone.

Every resident deserves the right to accessible, affordable health care

Maine should join the other New England states in taking the step toward giving all Mainers the opportunity to access affordable health insurance. Maine needs leadership that understands the importance of expanding Medicaid to its economy and low-income working residents.

Families USA Deputy Director of Government Affairs Shannon Donahue contributed to this blog.