The legislature is considering a bill to combine paying the state's debt to Maine hospitals with a plan to expand Medicaid coverage for people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level ($15,856 income/year for an individual; $26,951/year for a family of three) starting in January 2014.
Why does it make sense to tie these together? First, paying past debts is essential for our hospitals to operate, and second, increasing healthcare coverage for as many Maine people as possible will help our hospitals decrease costs going forward. Currently our hospitals provide a lot of charity or "free care" because we have so many Maine people without health insurance. Providing health insurance to more people will reduce the amount of free care hospitals have to give in the future.
The number one reason our U.S. healthcare system costs so much money is the large number of people without health insurance. Covering everyone with health insurance saves money because people are able to get primary care and preventive care before their conditions become so serious that they need to be hospitalized. Primary and preventive care cost about a seventh of the cost of hospital care.
The other reason we should do this is that it won't cost Maine anything to add this coverage for as many as 70,000 Maine people. It will be paid for by the Federal government.
How will the Federal government pay for this ? The Federal government has been paying hospitals through Medicare for part of the free care they provide. Medicare is going to stop paying for this more costly hospital charity care and use those dollars to pay for health insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act.
It is estimated by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the conservative Heritage Foundation that this will save Maine $690 million dollars over the next 10 years.
I like to think of this analogy. Everyone with a swimming pool has to put in water periodically to replace the water that evaporates. If the pool develops a leak you have to keep putting in more water until you repair the leak. Having uninsured people creates a leak in our health care system. We have to keep putting in more money (water) until we get everyone covered by health insurance (closing the leak).
I hope all of our legislators and our governor will agree this is both the right thing and the smart thing to do.
Rep. Jane P Pringle
District 111, Windham