If Republicans don’t support health care expansion, the people of Maine may act

If Republicans don’t support health care expansion, the people of Maine may act

This Friday, depending on which way the legislature votes, 70,000 Mainers who are working hard and just scraping by could finally gain access to health care coverage. Another 4,000 Mainers could be newly employed in health care and other fields as federal money rebounds throughout our state economy.

That outcome depends on more Republicans breaking with the most extreme elements of their party and supporting a Republican-sponsored proposal to accept federal funding through the Affordable Care Act.

Those legislators who are leaning toward “no” but who have any doubts at all about denying health care coverage to so many Mainers should take a moment and consider the deal before them to enact a conservative proposal on this issue.

They should also view their party’s recent history of strident opposition to important, popular policies in Maine as a cautionary tale. Lately, the people have been taking issues like this out of their hands and placing them on the ballot.

Here’s some important background on this issue:

  • Every year we don’t accept federal funds, experts estimate that as many as 157 Mainers die.
  • Each year, our economy loses out on $320 million a year and fails to create 4,000 jobs.
  • Law enforcement officials believe accepting federal funding is essential to tackling the drug crisis and public health experts agree it’s important to reducing chronic disease and preventing cancer in Maine.
  • It will help our hospitals and community health centers, especially in rural areas of the state where some are struggling to keep the doors open.
  • Expansion will provide the state budget with a net savings of $26.7 million.
  • Like other Republican Medicaid expansion plans across the country, LD 633, sponsored by Republican Sen. Saviello, offers Maine conservatives a privatized version of the plan consistent with their values.
  • The arguments against expansion in Maine rest largely on a plagiarized, error-ridden report from which even the Governor has distanced himself.
  • Poll after poll in Maine and across the country, even in deeply Republican states, show overwhelming support for health care expansions.

Accepting federal funding and expanding health care will saves lives, creates jobs, treat addiction, and save money.  Opposition at this point, especially after we have the positive examples in so many other states, is about politics, not policy.

A number of plans have been proposed, from a simple, purely-public version of expansion (which, incidentally, costs the least), to a privatized managed-care approach proposed by Sen. Roger Katz, to the conservative proposal from Sen. Saviello.  Pro-expansion lawmakers and advocates (including the Maine People’s Alliance) have been willing to go along with any of these, as long as the health care gets to the people who need it. But all have been rejected. All these good, bi-partisan ideas that would save lives have been shot down by gubernatorial vetoes and one-sided intransigence.

This can only go on for so long.  Seven strikes and you’re out.

Any observer of recent Maine history can tell you what could happen next. This is an important issue that is popular with voters and only gets more so the more they learn about it.

Based on those who have already endorsed these legislative proposals, a citizen initiative on this issue would be backed by a powerful coalition stretching across Maine’s ideological landscape, from advocacy organizations to chambers of commerce to hospitals and the medical establishment.

On the other side, apart from Governor LePage and the Republican Party, who oppose it on ideological grounds, there’s no natural constituency to form an opposition. Many of the business groups that traditionally fund conservative campaigns support expansion.

What’s more, the presidential election this November promises high turnout and a perfect opportunity to gather signatures, making the whole exercise of placing it on the ballot that much easier.

If a citizen initiative campaign were to go forward, I bet you’d see many Republicans right where they are now on the minimum wage, flipping their votes and supporting watered-down versions of health care expansion to try to head off a referendum.

They could save themselves a lot of trouble and save a lot of lives by doing the right thing, right now and passing Sen. Saviello’s proposal.

About author

Ben Chin
Ben Chin 8 posts

Ben Chin is the political engagement director for the Maine People's Alliance.

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