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Activists Press Maine Gov to Accept Federal Funds to Expand Medicaid
03/12/2013   Reported By: Patty B. Wight

Progressive activists are pressing the LePage administration to take advantage of federal dollars to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Today Maine Equal Justice Partners and the Maine Center for Economic Policy released a report that finds doing so would improve the health of tens of thousands of Mainers, as well as give the state an economic boost. It comes on the heels of signals that Lepage is exploring the possible - emphasis on "possible" - expansion of Medicaid. Patty Wight has more.

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Activists Press Maine Gov to Accept Federal Funds
Originally Aired: 3/12/2013 5:30 PM

Right now, there are about 128,000 Mainers who don't have health insurance. If the state expands Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, more than half of them would be eligible for coverage. And if more people have health insurance, the greater the chance they'll get preventive care and avoid expensive emergency room visits - a cost absorbed by others.

Garrett Martin of the Center for Economic Policy says expanding Medicaid would produce other economic benefits - 3,100 new jobs and over $350 million in economic activity.

"Just imagine for a second if a large firm called up the governor's office and said, 'Have I got a deal for you. I'll locate 3,100 jobs in your state - if,'" Martin says. "In this case, the 'if' is: 'if you will accept federal funds.'"

Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government will cover 100 percent of the costs for states who expand Medicaid. After a few years, that funding drops to cover 90 percent of the cost.

Dr. Amy Madden, a family physician in Belgrade, says this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that Maine can't refuse. She says she sees first hand the consequences of Mainers who don't have health insurance, and cites one of her patients who recently lost his job.

"He can't afford the Cobra payments, he's not currently eligible for MaineCare, and he's been denied disability," she says. "He has diabetes, he has active heart disease. He's currently being treated for a very aggressive form of lymphoma. There are many wonderful people who are trying everything they can to find a solution for this man's situation. I would probably guess that's that will come in the form of uncompensated care from the hospital system where he receives his care."

Maine Democrats support Medicaid expansion, but Republicans, including House minority leader Ken Fredette, say the situation is more complicated than it seems, no matter how enticing those federal dollars are.

"My question is is where's the money gonna come from?" he says.

Fredette says the reality is that federal deficit is big - $16 trillion - and growing. No matter what promise the federal government makes, he says, there are serious doubts about how it can sustain funding. Maine's own Medicaid program, says Fredette, has grown exponentially in recent years.

"The growth of the Department of Health and Human Services continues to crowd out spending that we can do in education, training programs for people to get jobs, the Department of Agriculture, Marine Resources," he says. "And so, it's a simple argument to make that simply says, 'Well let's just take it while we can today.' But I think the reality is, where we are today is a good example of why we need to be extremely cautious in talking about this."

At least one Republican in Augusta supports the expansion: Sen. Tom Saviello of Franklin County says he will co-sponsor a Medicaid expansion bill proposed by Democratic Rep. Linda Sanborn. Saviello says while he shares some of the concerns of his fellow Republicans, the benefits, including a healthier population and a reduced charity care burden for Maine hospitals, outweigh those worries.

"At the end of the day, we're going to save money on this, because we're not going to have the charity care, we're not going to have the emergency health care that's provided," Saviello says. "We're going to have long-term preventative care that's put into place, and I think that benefits it."

Garrett Martin of the Maine Center for Economic Policy says he's confident the government will fulfill its obligation to fund the expansion, which he believes is the best deal Maine has to both improve health care and boost the economy.


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