Forecaster Forum: Health-care expansion in Maine shouldn't be a partisan issue

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For more than a year, the Legislature has been talking about the need to accept federal funds to expand access to health care.

The facts haven’t changed: expansion would save the state $690 million over the next 10 years; provide health insurance for nearly 70,000 Mainers, including 3,000 veterans; create thousands of jobs, and inject more than $250 million into our economy.

The federal government will cover 100 percent of the cost of expansion for the first three years, then gradually ratchet down to no less than 90 percent of the cost.

This was true a year ago, and it is still true today.

Public support for expansion hasn’t changed; poll after poll shows that regardless of political party, Maine people know this is a good deal for Maine.

In fact, we have even more information about the need for expansion, and the benefits of expansion:

• The state’s nonpartisan fiscal office found that expansion would save Maine $3.4 million in the first year alone.

• A Harvard study found Maine could prevent nearly 400 deaths each year by saying yes to expansion.

• And a new report from the American Health Counselors Association found that 21,000 people with mental illness, including people who struggle with substance abuse, have serious mental illness, or are in serious psychological distress, would benefit from health-care expansion.

Too often when we talk about health care, we forget the important need for mental health care. When people with mental illness don’t have access to the care they need, a manageable mental health issue can deteriorate into a crisis. Expanding access to health care will help thousands of Mainers with mental health issues get the treatment they need.

To recap, health-care expansion will save money, save lives, and help struggling families.

Yet, here we are one year later, we still have not expanded health care, and opponents are running out of credible reasons to say no.

To address some of the concerns of some of our Republican colleagues, Republican Sens. Roger Katz of Augusta and Tom Saviello of Wilton proposed a compromise.

Under their plan, Maine would accept the federal funds for expansion for the three years the federal government pays 100 percent of the cost. Additionally, their proposal creates a managed-care plan in an effort to reduce program costs.

The compromise would also reduce the waiting list for home-care services for some elderly and disabled Mainers to increase the number of Mainers helped by this initiative, and strengthen the Health Care Crimes Unit in the attorney general’s office to help investigate and prosecute any cases of fraud in the program.

We hope this compromise will help persuade more of our Republican colleagues to join us in supporting expansion.

Of course, not all of them will. Unfortunately, some prefer to support Gov. Paul LePage’s extreme political rhetoric, rather than do right by Maine people.

We have been disappointed by the increasingly outlandish and dishonest attempts by those opposed to expansion to convince Maine people that health-care coverage for 70,000 low-income adults struggling to make ends meet is a bad idea.

LePage and his allies rely on a widely discredited and deeply flawed report produced by the Alexander Group to argue against expansion, and even argue that health care for children, the elderly, and people with disabilities is “cannibalizing” our state.

The one thing they don’t do is offer any solutions.

At a recent event in Washington, D.C., U.S. Sen. Angus King said “too many people die each year from a lack of health insurance; I can’t understand why this is a partisan issue.”

Neither can we.

Sen. James Boyle, D-Gorham, represents Senate District 6, which includes Gorham, part of Scarborough, and part of Westbrook. Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, represents Senate District 7, which includes Cape Elizabeth, South Portland and part of Scarborough.