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  • Medicaid Expansion Critical to Uninsured and Viability of Rural Hospitals

    by Robert Peterson, MBA, FACHE
    Chief Executive Officer
    Millinocket Regional Hospital

    Question #2 on the upcoming ballot is critically important to Katahdin area residents and to the viability of rural hospitals like Millinocket Regional Hospital.  A “YES” vote would require Maine to expand Medicaid coverage to approximately 85,000 Maine individuals who currently have no other viable option for coverage – it’s Medicaid or nothing.  This means that today 85,000 Maine residents have no access to primary care, preventative medicine, or basic health services that are essential for a healthy life.  Because these citizens cannot access the care they need to stay well, they only receive medical care when they are very, very sick and are essentially carried into our emergency department.  Many of the illnesses we see could have been completely avoided had the patient been receiving appropriate and ongoing primary care in physician and other provider offices.

    Who pays for this care?  The blunt answer is; you do – twice!  First, hospitals are forced to charge higher amounts to insured patients (many of you) to cover the patients who are uninsured and cannot pay.  Yes, you are paying for their care.  This covers a portion of the care provided, but certainly not all.  Half of Maine hospitals are currently “in the red” (losing money) because of this problem.  The Affordable Care Act significantly cut payments to hospitals and other providers.  This fact has put Maine hospitals in very serious financial trouble.  The federally funded expansion of Medicaid under the ACA however, was the one tool designed to offset those cuts and keep hospitals and physicians financially viable. But guess what – Maine elected not to play ball.  So, we suffered all the cuts in payments brought on by the ACA, but didn’t offset those cuts with available Medicaid expansion dollars (good thinking there).    Hospitals in those states that did expand Medicaid are financially okay today – hospitals in Maine are not.  We must fix this mistake before small Maine hospitals that provide vital, life-saving services are forced to close.  Make no mistake; closure is a real possibility and a real threat.

    Second, as U.S. citizens we all pay our federal income taxes every year.  Our hard earned Maine dollars go to Washington and are then distributed out to other states that have already expanded Medicaid.  We are currently paying for citizens in other states to have adequate healthcare while 85,000 of our own residents go without.   How does that grab you?  Those are your dollars, they’re being spent in other states, and you’re getting nothing in return for them.  A “YES” vote would bring $500 million dollars back to Maine from Washington (every year) to provide better healthcare for our citizens.

    There is a cost to the state budget for this expansion, but it is minimal compared to the $500 million gain.  The state budget can and should absorb this increase without affecting your state taxes at all or at the most, very minimally.  Balance that with the benefits the state will receive in return.  These funds will have a profound effect on the health of many Mainers and preserve our state’s rural hospitals for years to come.  No public policy proposal is perfect or without challenges.  However, Medicaid expansion is on balance, very good for needy Maine people and for the Maine healthcare providers who care for them.

    Vote “YES” on Question #2 – it is right for you, your neighbors, and the state of Maine!

    Robert Peterson, MBA, FACHE
    Chief Executive Officer
    Millinocket Regional Hospital

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    About Millinocket Regional Hospital
    Millinocket Regional Hospital (MRH) is a 25 bed Critical Access Hospital nestled at the base of Baxter State Park that provides vital healthcare services to those who live, work and play in the Katahdin Region. Beyond the friendly staff and award-winning patient care, MRH provides an impressive range of specialty and general services; with a recent expansion resulting in the addition of eight new specialties and a Walk-In Care facility. In 2016, MRH was recognized as the Cleanest Hospital in New England by Becker’s Hospital Review and received a five star rating on the Medicare Quality Scale. Providing jobs to approximately 250 people, MRH is the largest employer in the Katahdin Region and a crucial economic force within its community. For more information, please visit www.mrhme.org or www.facebook.com/MillinocketRegionalHospital