Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Rep. Drew Gattine
WOULD YOU TURN away millions of dollars, thousands of jobs and life-saving health care for tens of thousands of Maine's citizens?
No -- not unless you are a tea party Republican playing politics. In a column in this paper on Sept. 27 ("Hospital debt payoff represents success of GOP welfare reform"), Rep. Deb Sanderson, R-Chelsea, tried to defend her party's decision to deny federally funded health care for nearly 70,000 Maine people, including 2,700 veterans.
Sanderson, like so many Republicans in the Legislature, followed Gov. Paul LePage off the cliff earlier this year and refused to override a veto of a measure that would have accepted an additional $256 million in federal funds for MaineCare, to provide low-income workers, seniors and veterans with access to a family doctor and the medicine they need to stay healthy.
As a result, starting in January, Maine will lose out on an additional $700,000 per day, while nearly 25,000 Mainers lose their health care. Tom Ptacek, a U.S. Navy veteran living in Portland, will lose his. Sam Daniels of Augusta and her husband and two children will lose theirs.
It's a heart-breaking tragedy caused purely by political brinksmanship.
Only days ago, the leaders of the Maine Medical Association and AARP faulted the state for jeopardizing the health of thousands of residents. Rich Livingston, AARP's Maine volunteer state president, said, "We know of too many people in our state whose nest eggs have eroded because of their health care costs."
Livingston urged elected officials to accept the federal contribution for expanded Medicaid in 2014 to ensure the AARP's 230,000 members in Maine and their families would have adequate medical coverage.
In her column, Sanderson makes the case that we should not accept the money because the people who would receive the health care don't deserve it.
So, who doesn't deserve health care? Is it aging workers in the doughnut hole that Livingston references? Or is it our low-income workers who don't have a job that gives them health care coverage? Our waitresses? Our farmers? Our lobstermen or our home-care workers and our nurses?
Who exactly is it that Republicans believe shouldn't have health care?
The New York Times recently reported that more than half of the low-wage workers in our country who do not have health insurance will lose out on the opportunity to get it.
Why? Because they live in a "red" state. It's shameful.
Uninsured workers are one injury away from the unemployment line. The facts show that keeping people in good health is much less expensive than caring for them when they get really sick.
As a member of the Legislature, I find it discouraging to hear opponents constantly distort facts to create an impression that accepting federal health care dollars is a bad deal for Maine.
Here is the truth:
Maine can't afford not to accept federally funded health care. Maine is one of a handful of states that will save money, according to studies by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the conservative Heritage Foundation. The bipartisan bill that the governor vetoed would have added 3,100 jobs and injected an additional $256 million into Maine's economy.
Expanding access to health care keeps people healthy. That's a no-brainer. Maine has one of the lowest uninsured rates in the country. The number of uninsured dropped dramatically after previous the state-funded expansion in 2001.
Wait lists for Department of Health and Human Services could be reduced if we expand coverage. If we accept federal health-care dollars to cover more Mainers, the state will be able to shift resources to help cover more services for seniors and for people with severe disabilities.
While people on wait lists have access to doctors, medicine and other medical care, most are seeking 100 percent state-funded services that are nonmedical. Freeing up state dollars would give the governor more money to help those very people.
Let's govern in reality and check the rhetoric at the door.
Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, serves on the Health and Human Services Committee. He is a health care executive with more than 20 years' experience helping state Medicaid agencies manage their programs.