The Maine Medical Association and the Maine Primary Care Association are urging voters to support a ballot initiative on next month’s statewide ballot to expand Medicaid.
Their announcement at a press conference in Portland Wednesday follows an endorsement earlier this month by the Maine Hospital Association. But the medical community’s support is not swaying Gov. Paul LePage, who dedicated his weekly radio address to oppose Question 2.
At the press conference at Greater Portland Health, providers shared personal stories of patients who struggle to access care because they don’t have insurance.
Renee Fay-LeBlanc, chief medical officer at Greater Portland Health, spoke about one patient who lost Medicaid coverage after his wife got a small raise. Now, she says, that patient has to pay out of pocket for substance use treatment.
“Yesterday he let me know that it’s now cheaper for him to go back to using heroin than it is for him to stay in treatment,” she says.
LeBlanc says more than half of Greater Portland Health’s 10,000 patients don’t have access to insurance.
Bryan Wyatt of the Maine Primary Care Association, which represents the state’s 20 community health centers, says health centers in particular bear the impact of lack of insurance coverage because they provide care regardless of ability to pay.
“A yes vote on Question 2 will help to ensure that we can continue to make health care available and accessible for those who need it most,” he says.
And it’s a smarter way to spend health care dollars, according to Maine Medical Association President Charlie Pattavina. He says he has witnessed patients who avoid treatment until their health issues develop into emergencies.
“It’s a false economy to avoid implementing the Medicaid expansion, because we’re paying for this coverage anyway, we’re paying for this health care anyway. We’re just not paying for health care for these people in an organized fashion,” he says.
Supporters of Question 2 say expanding Medicaid will provide coverage to 70,000 Mainers, support providers and create new jobs. But LePage sees the issue in starkly different terms.
In his weekly radio address on Wednesday, LePage said expanding Medicaid would cripple the state’s budget.
“Before I became governor, massive Medicaid shortfalls derailed the state budget every year. But my administration eliminated those shortfalls and put Medicaid back on sound financial footing,” he said.
If Maine expands Medicaid, the federal government will pick up about 90 percent of the tab. The Maine Center for Economic Policy estimates the state would receive about $500 million a year. But to cover the state’s share of expansion, LePage said it will cost Maine $500 million over five years.
Beyond his concerns for taxpayers, LePage said expanding Medicaid would also remove incentives to work.
“Maine should not expand Medicaid for adults who are capable of working,” he said.
Pattavina says Medicaid often covers the working poor. Question 2 would expand Medicaid coverage to those who earn 138 percent of the federal poverty level. That’s about $17,000 for an individual and $34,000 for a family of four.