Massive volunteer petition effort puts Medicaid expansion on Maine ballot

Massive volunteer petition effort puts Medicaid expansion on Maine ballot

Advocates for improving access to affordable health coverage in Maine announced on Wednesday that more than enough voters have signed on to their citizen’s initiative to place a Medicaid-expansion measure on the ballot in 2017. More than 65,000 signatures from all 16 counties were gathered by hundreds of volunteers who fanned out to polling places across the state on Election Day.

“The success of this signature gathering effort demonstrates the strong passion of Mainers when it comes to health care,” said Robyn Merrill, the executive director of Maine Equal Justice Partners, one of the leading groups behind the effort. “People from all walks of life, concerned about the cost of health care, were eager to sign the petition, making this one of the fastest signature gathering efforts in recent memory.”

There’s a chance that the Maine Legislature could act early in next year’s session to expand Medicaid coverage and make the initiative unnecessary, but that seems unlikely given that Governor Paul LePage has vetoed five similar measures passed over the past few years, despite bipartisan support.

“It was striking that a large number of signers spontaneously  shared emotional accounts of the stress they or their loved ones experienced when they were unable to access affordable health care” said Dr. Barbara Covey, who volunteered to collect signatures in Oakland on Election Day. “We heard heart-wrenching stories from people who could not afford to see a doctor and ended up in the emergency room, people foregoing needed medications and more.”

While federal health care law, including the Affordable Care Act, may change dramatically under a Republican presidential administration and GOP-controlled Congress, the fact that so many states have already accepted federal funding to expand Medicaid means the option will likely continue to be available to Maine, at least for the immediate future.

Health care expansion proponents will have to submit at least 61,123 valid signatures by the end of January to make the 2017 ballot. Other organizations supporting the campaign include the Maine Center for Economic Policy, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and the Maine People’s Alliance.

Photo: Orono voters sign the Medicaid expansion referendum on Election Day

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