AUGUSTA -- Health care providers serving in the Legislature and from the Maine Medical Association strongly endorsed a bill that would allow Maine to accept federal health care dollars to cover more Maine people.
The measure, LD 1066, An Act To Increase Access to Health Coverage and Qualify Maine for Federal Funding, would increase access to health care for up to 69,500 Maine people under the Affordable Care Act.
“Accepting these federal dollars to get health care to more Maine people is the right prescription for Maine,” Rep. Linda Sanborn, the sponsor of the bill, and a retired family physician from Gorham, said at a press conference Wednesday. “Maine has an opportunity to cover more people and save millions of dollars currently spent to treat uninsured people in emergency rooms.”
Maine is projected to save $690 million in the next 10 years if it accepts the federal dollars, according to the nonpartisan Kaiser Foundation and the conservative Heritage Foundation.
Sen. Geoff Gratwick, a co-sponsor of the bill and a rheumatologist and arthritis specialist from Bangor, said the bill would also boost Maine’s economy.
“Building a strong economy and a strong middle class means making sure people have the health care they need, when they need it, at an affordable cost,” Gratwick said. “Accepting federal funds to increase health coverage will strengthen Maine’s economy and provide health coverage to thousands of hard-working Mainers.”
The measure would infuse $250 million of additional federal funding into Maine’s economy and create more than 3,100 jobs in Maine. Close to 1,700 of those jobs will be created directly by health care businesses.
Maine Medical Association President Dr. Dieter Kreckel said his organization of 3,800 doctors also endorsed the measure because it would lead to a healthier population.
“We know that individuals with health insurance are more likely to have a regular doctor and be healthier,” said Kreckel. “As health care costs continue to rise for everyone, we need to ensure that people have access to primary care and preventive services before their health care needs become high-cost emergencies or more difficult to treat.”
Gov. Paul LePage, who had publicly shunned the Affordable Care Act, has recently expressed interest in accepting the federal dollars. Governors across the country, including high-profile Republicans, have accepted the federal health care funds.
Sanborn noted the bill currently has Republican co-sponsors in both the Senate and House.
Bill sponsors also include Rep. Jane Pringle, a retired primary care doctor and medical clinic director from Windham, Rep. Anne Graham, a pediatric nurse practitioner from Yarmouth, and Rep. Ann Dorney, a family doctor from Norridgewock.
Pringle spoke at the press conference about her personal experience treating patients without insurance. Graham and Dorney demonstrated their support at the event, as did medical professionals including an osteopath and a physician assistant.
The bill will have a public hearing before the Health and Human Services Committee in the coming weeks.