March 28, 2013

Accepting federal dollars right prescription for health care

Rep. Ann Dorney, D-Norridgewock,

As a family doctor, I see every day what happens to Maine people who don't have health insurance. They delay treatment and end up in our emergency rooms. Or their bills pile up, pushing them toward financial ruin.

One of my patients developed Type 1 diabetes, the insulin-dependent variety, after suffering pancreatitis from gallstones. After losing her insurance, she could not afford her insulin and ended up twice in the intensive care unit with very high blood sugars.

This course of events increased the noncovered care provided by the hospital and therefore overall rates for everyone.

An uninsured patient diagnosed with cancer had $170,000 in medical bills. Another patient who developed cancer had no insurance even though she worked full time. She could not afford her cancer medication.

A family should never have to face bankruptcy or losing their home because of medical bills. Yet, too many Mainers are one illness or accident away from financial ruin.

It doesn't have to be that way.

Maine has an opportunity to provide more people with access to health care coverage while saving millions of dollars now spent on treating uninsured patients in emergency rooms. In fact, the state of Maine could save $690 million dollars over the course of a decade, according to the nonpartisan Kaiser Foundation and the conservative Heritage Foundation.

We can do this by accepting federal dollars to provide health coverage to approximately 69,500 uninsured Mainers, the majority of whom are working people.

Accepting federal funds through the Affordable Care Act is the right thing to do. It will give Maine families the security they need to get the care they need when they need it without the threat of huge medical bills.

Republican and Democratic governors across the country have decided to take up the federal government on its offer to pay for health care for more Americans. They recognize this as a good deal.

The federal government will pay 100 percent of the costs of covering all newly eligible people for the first three years. After that, the state's share still would be considerably smaller than under the current MaineCare program. In addition, Maine can opt out at any time.

That's a bargain with no strings attached.

Accepting these federal dollars is the right prescription for Maine. It will save our state money, help more Maine families and boost our economy. We can create about 3,100 new jobs and stimulate more than $350 million in economic activity annually, according to a new report from the Maine Center for Economic Policy.

If we don't accept these federal dollars, other states will and Maine will lose out. Our tax dollars would end of paying for coverage in other states. Republican governors across the country have put politics aside to do what is best for their people and their states' bottom lines.

I have been a practicing family doctor in Skowhegan for more than 30 years. When I ran for office last year, it was with the hope of bringing my medical experience and knowledge to the Legislature. I can tell you that increasing access to medical care is the best way to help more people and lower costs in both public and private health care.

No matter what side of the aisle you are on, we can all agree that every family should have access to a family doctor.

It is the right thing to do. I hope the governor and Republican lawmakers will join us in moving this forward.

Rep. Ann Dorney, D-Norridgewock, is serving her first term in the Maine House of Representatives.

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