Maine ballot drive offers new hope for Medicaid expansion

Most Mainers believe the state should accept federal funds to provide health coverage through Medicaid expansion to low income people. Unfortunately, while Maine’s Legislature has passed Medicaid expansion five times, the Governor has vetoed those bills and the Legislature has ultimately failed to get it done for Maine people.

If we can’t adopt this life-saving policy through the Legislature, then we have no choice but to take the decision directly to the voters.

For this reason, Maine Equal Justice, along with allies, has filed an application with Maine’s Secretary of State to initiate a citizen’s ballot initiative to accept federal funds to increase access to health insurance through the MaineCare program.

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The stakes are too high not to act.  Accepting federal funds would provide health coverage to 70,000 low-income Mainers, most who work, including 3,000 veterans and at least 20,000 parents with children living at home.  Many low-wage workers are not offered employer-based coverage or cannot afford marketplace insurance.  Affordable health coverage would be available if Maine accepted federal funds for families with income up to 138% of the poverty level, about $27,821 gross annual income for a family of three.

Accepting federal funds to expand MaineCare coverage is a good deal for Maine.  The federal government would pay most of the cost of coverage for most people who would be newly eligible for MaineCare (95-93% of the cost through 2019 and 90% in 2020 and beyond).  This would bring nearly $470 million in new federal funds to our state next year.  It would create more than 3,000 good paying jobs and would result in an estimated $27 million in savings to the state’s budget.

Thirty-two other states including the District of Columbia have accepted the federal funds to provide health coverage to people with low income.  Maine is the only state in New England that has not expanded.  The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJ) studied 11 states that accepted federal funds to expand Medicaid programs.  RWJ concluded that states consistently show that expansion generates savings and revenue which can be used to finance other state spending priorities or to offset much, if not all, of the state costs of expansion. The report cited the many benefits of expanding Medicaid including reduced state spending on programs serving the uninsured and broader benefits, including job growth, deep reductions in state uninsured rates and related decreases in hospital uncompensated care costs.

Hard working Maine families with limited income would have access to lifesaving health screenings and treatment.  They would have the security of knowing they have quality health coverage to get care when they need it, without facing huge medical bills or debt.  It would also help Maine’s struggling hospitals and community health clinics throughout the state, especially those operating in rural areas.

Like other states, closing the coverage gap will help Maine address its drug crisis.  The federal health care funds are being used by other states to provide treatment through drug courts and to inmates who are hospitalized or released from prison.  Other states that chose to accept the federal funds are seeing savings to their criminal justice systems with fewer people reentering the corrections system for drug-related offenses.

Republicans, Democrats and Independents in the Legislature need to come together to adopt this life-saving policy this year.  So far lawmakers have failed to get this done.  The full Legislature has voted to pass different versions or compromises of Medicaid expansion 5 times but gridlock in Augusta has blocked the will of the people. Bringing a question to the ballot will help ensure that Maine people have the ability to get this done.

YOU CAN HELP!  We aim to collect 60,000 signatures this fall.  The upcoming presidential election provides us with a great opportunity to collect many, if not all of the signatures we need to get this on the ballot. Please sign up here to volunteer.

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