By Arthur Blank
On Nov. 7, voters will have the opportunity to decide whether Maine should join 30 other states and the District of Columbia in approving Medicaid expansion. There are a lot of good reasons why we should vote “yes” on referendum Question 2, but the most important is because it is the right thing to do. We currently have more than 20,000 people in our state who have absolutely no other option to access the health care they need. And as many as 50,000 others are challenged to choose between having health care and feeding their families.
As a hospital administrator, each day I see the impact of not having health insurance on people’s lives, like the woman whose knees gave out after years of manual labor. She was finally forced to cut back her hours because the pain in her knees had become so bad that she could barely walk. At that point, she sought care at our hospital, received the surgery she desperately needed, and is once again able to work full-time and be a productive member of society. Had she been covered by Medicaid, she would have received care much earlier, and the hospital would not have been left with the task of figuring out how to find the resources to pay for her medically necessary care. Unfortunately, her case is one of many.
Although our hospital and health centers treat everyone regardless of their ability to pay, knowing that they don’t have health insurance is often what keeps people from seeking the treatment they desperately need. As the opioid epidemic continues to take its toll on our nation and our state, lack of access to health insurance is a major barrier for those seeking treatment. It is tragic to see people who want and need treatment for their opioid addiction make impossible choices because they have no way to pay for that treatment. We cannot allow this to continue.
As a nation, we recognized that despite the many challenges we face in having an affordable health care system, it was wrong to withhold from people the security to have their basic health care needs met. This should not be an option.
Question 2 will allow us to access $500 million a year to support our state’s health care system and not have to look to our employers and rising insurance premiums to provide this subsidy. Growing charity care expenses are threatening the very existence of some rural hospitals.
There is much debate and uncertainty in Washington as to the long-term viability of any health care program. Joining the majority of other states, many of whom have advocated strongly to maintain their programs because of the value it has brought to their state, places us in the mainstream of those negotiations.
But the most important reason we should vote “yes” on Question 2 is because it is the right thing to do.
Arthur Blank is the president and CEO of Mount Desert Island Hospital.