Referendum campaign launched to expand Medicaid in Maine
A coalition of organizations launched a citizens’ initiative campaign yesterday to expand access to health care for tens of thousands of Mainers. The groups will begin collecting signatures to place a question on the November 2018 ballot that would allow Maine to accept federal funds to provide health coverage through the expansion of Medicaid.
“Five times, Republicans, Democrats and independents have come together to do the right thing in the Legislature, but the governor has prevented its progress each time,” said Dr. Chuck Radis of Portland, a sponsor of the initiative. “If lawmakers in Augusta can’t get it done, we will be left with no choice but to take our case to Maine voters. Making sure more people have access to health care coverage is too important to wait any longer. We can’t allow one person to stand in the way of making Maine healthier and our economy stronger.”
Accepting federal funds would provide health coverage to about 70,000 low-income Mainers, most who work, including 3,000 veterans and at least 20,000 working parents with children living at home.
Organizations backing the campaign include Maine Equal Justice Partners, the Maine People’s Alliance, Planned Parenthood and the Maine Center for Economic Policy. If successful, the initiative would ensure that affordable health care is available to families earning up to 138 percent of the poverty level, which is about $27,821 for a family of three.
“I go to work everyday to earn a living and to support my family, but I still can’t afford health insurance,” said Kathy Phelps, a hairdresser from Waterville, who lost coverage. “I’m a mother and a grandmother, and I don’t expect anything for free. I work hard, but I can’t afford the cost of health insurance or health care. At 59, I still have six years to go before I qualify for Medicare. This initiative could save my life.”
Accepting the dollars set aside for Maine would also restore affordable coverage for the 40,000 people in Maine who lost health care coverage when Maine opted not to accept these federal funds. The federal government would pay most of the cost of coverage for newly eligible people (95-93 percent of the cost through 2019 and 90 percent in 2020 and beyond).
The initiative also would bring nearly $470 million in new federal funds to Maine and create more than 3,000 good paying jobs, while saving the state budget an estimated $27 million a year.
“MaineCare provides access to health care that many Mainers, including veterans who would otherwise be unable to get insurance,” said Tom Ptacek, the veteran’s health care outreach community organizer at Preble Street. “Accepting federal dollars to expand MaineCare will help our state fight addiction, keep people in their homes and make it possible for them to work.”
Thirty-two states, including the District of Columbia, have accepted federal funds to provide health care to people with low-incomes. Maine is the only state in New England that has not expanded access to health care.
To place a question on the 2018 ballot, the coalition will need to collect at least 61,123 signatures. Volunteer signature gatherers are encouraged to sign up here.
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