The Universal Notebook: Vote yes to expand Medicaid in Maine

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Question 2 on the state’s Nov. 7 ballot worries me.

The Maine Legislature has voted on a bipartisan basis five times to expand MaineCare (as Maine’s Medicaid program is called) and each time Gov. Paul LePage has vetoed expanding health care benefits to cover 70,000 of our fellow citizens.

LePage puts politics ahead of people every time. That’s why Maine people have put Medicaid expansion on the November ballot. Of course, we have seen recently how this governor and legislature routinely ignore the will of the people on referendum votes.

Question 2 says, “Do you want Maine to expand Medicaid to provide health care coverage for qualified adults under age 65 with incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level, which in 2017 means $16,643 for a single person and $22,412 for a family of two?”

Medicaid expansion is an ideological battleground. Democrats believe it is the proper function of government to offer health insurance to as many people in need as possible. Republicans wanted the phrase “health care insurance” in the original ballot wording changed to “taxpayer- or government-funded health benefits,” because they do not support much of anything that is “taxpayer-or government-funded.”

The compromise between “insurance” and “benefits” was “coverage.”

Republicans seem to believe the government should deny health care coverage to as many citizens as possible. That’s the only conclusion I can draw when LePage and former Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew do everything in their power to dismantle DHHS, and berserk Republicans in Congress try repeatedly to repeal the Affordable Care Act – not to replace it with something better that covers more Americans, but with something worse that covers fewer.

I confess I do not understand the Republican mania to deny people help in the name of tax savings and some perverse tough-love notion of anti-government self-reliance. But then one of the uglier aspects of conservatism is the tendency to make a virtue of selfishness.

So far, 31 states have expanded Medicaid, including some with Republican governors. Maine is one of 19 states – all but one with Republican governors – that have repeatedly turned down federal funds to expand Medicaid. Paul LePage has personally been turning down about $1 million a day for years, such that to date Maine has lost close to $1 billion in federal aid. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.

So 66,000 Mainers signed a petition to put Medicaid expansion to a vote. I will be voting yes on Question 2 not only because expanding Medicaid is the right thing to do morally, but because I take it very personally. Social Security and MaineCare were very important to my parents during the last years of their long lives.

My father worked hard all his life, paid his bills, supported his family and served his country during World War II, the Korean Conflict and Desert Storm, but neither he nor my mother were very skilled at money management. They outlived their retirement by three or four years, which is one reason I oppose Republican efforts to privatize Social Security. When my parents became too sick to stay in their home, MaineCare enabled them to get the nursing home care they needed. I figured they had earned it, but I suppose people like Paul LePage would view it as welfare.

Personally, I look at Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the ACA the same way I look at paying taxes to support public schools and public safety. We all pay to support these services so they will be there if and when we need them. We share the risks, we share our resources and we share the rewards.

David Farmer, communications director for Mainers for Health Care, says, “Question 2 will make our health care system fairer and make sure that thousands of Maine people can see a doctor when they’re sick. It will also strengthen our economy by bringing more than 500 million new dollars a year into the state. That money will help our hospitals and clinics to continue to serve their communities. Expanding Medicaid is a good deal for Maine people and for Maine’s economy.”

Not only do I hope Medicaid expansion passes so Maine will no longer be left behind, but I also support the Maine People’s Alliance new initiative to put universal in-home care on the ballot next year. The proposal is to help senior citizens get the care they need in their own homes by placing a 1.9 percent payroll tax on salaries and wages over $127,000.

My family might well have to pay that additional 1.9 percent, but I am more than happy to pay higher taxes in order to assure that more Mainers get the care they deserve.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.