It’s time to protect and expand Medicaid, say Maine business owners

It’s time to protect and expand Medicaid, say Maine business owners

Lewiston-area business owners gathered this week at Grace Street Recovery Services, an opioid addiction treatment center, to share why they believe preserving and expanding Medicaid coverage is not only critical for Mainers’ health, but an important step to bolster local economies.

“Being just a few blocks from one of the state’s largest hospitals, my restaurant serves many of the area’s health care providers as well a large amount of catering to the industry, which can make or break an otherwise slow day,” said Heather Letourneau, owner of Guthrie’s Restaurant and Cafe. “If the federal government cuts Medicaid funding, that means CMMC, Grace Street, and the other health care providers in the area will have to lay off doctors, nurses, and other staff. Those professionals will stop coming to Guthrie’s for lunch and I will lose business. Our whole community will suffer. We strongly urge Representative Poliquin, Senator Collins, and our other Members of Congress to oppose these devastating cuts,”

Currently, Maine receives over $1.6 billion per year in federal money to administer Medicaid, known in Maine as MaineCare, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation. That sum represents more than twenty percent of the state government’s entire annual budget.

“The majority of my patients have MaineCare for insurance. I am able to run my business and serve my patients properly only because federal Medicaid monies fund MaineCare. The rest of my patients have little money with which to pay me and I know many of them delay seeing me because they don’t want to be in debt,” said Dr. Alice Haines, a family medicine physician in private practice in downtown Lewiston, speaking at the center. “When they are healthy they work at their jobs more efficiently and miss fewer days, not to mention that they suffer less.”

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan and congressional Republicans have proposed over $1 trillion in cuts over the next ten years to Medicaid funds that the federal government transfers to states in order to provide health care coverage to those that can’t afford it.

At the same time that Congress is considering cuts to Medicaid, Maine citizens are attempting to make full use of available federal funds, as 31 other states have already done, by expanding Medicaid to cover tens of thousands more Mainers. After Governor Paul LePage vetoed legislation five separate times to accept federal funds to provide health care for Mainers, voters will get to decide on expansion this November through a citizen’s initiative.

Marty O’Brien, President of Grace Street, notes that a Yes vote in November would both help his business and help to combat Maine’s opioid addition crisis.

“The majority of our patients rely on Medicaid to treat this terrible disease. If Congress cuts Medicaid, I might have to lay off some or all of my eight employees and, even worse, suffering Mainers would no longer be able to get the care they desperately need,” O’Brien said.

Public safety officials seem to agree. According to the Portland Press Herald, Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck told a legislative task force earlier this month that Medicaid expansion was at the top of his “wish list” for battling the opioid epidemic.

Will Ikard, director of the Maine Small Business Coalition, which sponsored Tuesday’s event, noted that Maine’s economy is especially vulnerable to economic harm from health care cuts.

“The health care industry is Maine’s largest employer and seventeen percent of health care spending nationwide comes from Medicaid,” Ikard said. “If we lose that federal money, a lot of health care professionals will lose their jobs. On the other hand, we now have a great opportunity to support our most important industry, expand Medicaid, and save thousands of lives along the way.”

According to a report by Families USA, expanding Medicaid would support 3,200 new jobs in Maine and increase economic activity by $347 million.

Photo: Lewiston-area business owners Marty O’Brien, Heather Letourneau and Jim Wellehan meet at Grace Street Recovery Services.

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