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Report Finds Big Benefits in Medicaid Expansion

Expanding Medicaid in Maine would bring health coverage to an estimated 70,000 lower-income adults. (corgaasbeek/Pixabay)
Expanding Medicaid in Maine would bring health coverage to an estimated 70,000 lower-income adults. (corgaasbeek/Pixabay)
September 26, 2018

AUGUSTA, Maine – The Medicaid expansion should dramatically decrease the number of low-income Mainers without health insurance, according to a new report.

The Georgetown Center for Children and Families found more than three times as large a decline in the percentage of uninsured, low-income adults living in the rural areas and small towns of states that expanded Medicaid, compared to states that have not.

Tricia Brooks, a senior fellow at the Georgetown Center, points out that many hospitals in those non-expansion states have been forced to close or are facing financial strain because of the number of uninsured patients they must treat.

"In expansion states, you see a more vibrant health care economy, where hospitals are adding beds and adding staff, which is good for the local economy," she points out.

Plans for Medicaid expansion in Maine have been submitted, but Gov. Paul LePage, an opponent of the expansion, has asked federal regulators to reject those plans.

LePage says expanding Medicaid in Maine will cost the state millions.

But Joan Alker, co-author of the report and executive director of the Georgetown Center, counters that several studies have found the benefits far outweigh the cost.

"There's so much research about this,” she states. “So, from an economic perspective, having health insurance, having this Medicaid coverage, is really important in these rural areas, which are already struggling with higher rates of unemployment and poverty."

Advocates also say Medicaid expansion brings in far more federal dollars than the state would spend, which provides an economic boost to the entire state.

Brooks notes that currently, 23 percent of low-income adults in rural Maine have no health insurance, a rate virtually unchanged from nine years ago.

"There is no doubt that rural residents in Maine have a lot to gain from Medicaid expansion,” she stresses. “We would expect that an estimated 70,000 residents would gain health coverage."

Brooks adds that Medicaid expansion also helps rural hospitals keep their doors open, ensuring that those communities have access to health care.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - ME