SCARBOROUGH — To fill the seat being vacated by Republican state Rep. Amy Volk, voters in Maine House District 29 can choose from her former opponent in a hotly contested election, and the political newcomer Volk has hand-picked to succeed her.
Democrat Paul Aranson mounted a strong challenge to Volk in 2012, losing by just 12 votes. Now he’s making another run as Volk aims to win the District 30 seat in the state Senate.
Aranson faces Republican Karen Vachon, who has never sought elective office, but is doing so at Volk’s urging.
House District 29, created by a mandated redrawing of electoral lines, comprises the eastern portion of Scarborough, and is nearly identical to the District 127 area now represented by Volk.
Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 4.
Aranson, 63, is a lawyer, farmer and musician who served as Cumberland County district attorney from 1982-1990. A resident of Minuteman Drive, he is single and has two sons.
He said he sees a “fundamental philosophical division” between himself and Vachon around expanding eligibility for MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid health insurance program.
Under the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare,” Maine has the option of providing Medicaid coverage to 70,000 more low-income residents, with the federal government pledging to pick up 100 percent of the added cost for the first three years. After that, the federal portion would drop to 90 percent.
Gov. Paul LePage five times has vetoed attempts by the Legislature to expand Medicaid eligibility under the ACA provisions, claiming MaineCare is already too expensive and that expanding eligibility will ultimately saddle the state with more costs.
Vachon supports the vetoes, but Aranson believes not expanding MaineCare eligibility simply shifts the expense of caring for people in need.
“What happens is that the rest of us pick up the tab anyway, because people aren’t insured and they delay going to the doctor,” he said in an interview earlier this week. “Or they end up in the emergency room, which is a very costly way to deliver health care.”
As a criminal lawyer, Aranson added, he has seen the impact of reductions in social service programs such as MaineCare. He cited heroin use as an example: the state has recently developed a “significant problem” with heroin, he said, and when drug abusers can’t access treatment or other services, the problem is aggravated.
“There are more efficient ways to address heroin addiction than to have (addicts) end up in correctional institutions,” Aranson said. “The consequence is we all pay for that.”
Aranson also faulted LePage and his supporters for reducing municipal revenue sharing, the portion of sales and income taxes the state returns to cities and towns. LePage’s 2013 state budget plan attempted to do away with revenue sharing, although the Legislature ultimately restored much of the funding cuts.
“The result is that municipalities have been forced to increase property tax rates, and that falls hardest on the elderly,” Aranson said.
Measures such as the revenue-sharing cuts and LePage’s refusal to authorize state-backed bonds have “frozen” Maine’s economy, he said.
“You can’t have capitalism without capital … You need to prime the pump,” Aranson said. “Government has a function in economic development. It needs to be done intelligently, and with focus. But here, we’re talking about a half billion dollars that has been taken out of the economy, which is one of the reasons we’re in the bottom (economic) tier.”
Still, Aranson believes in moderation when it comes to government’s role.
“Most people want effective government; they’re not ideological,” he said. “There’s plenty of potential for government to create an environment for business, and then get out of the way.”
Vachon, 55, is an insurance agent in the Scarborough office of Insphere Insurance Solutions. She has also worked as an account manager with a Fortune 100 pharmaceutical company. She and her husband have three sons and are residents of Ocean Avenue.
Working “on the front lines of health insurance,” Vachon said she feels Maine can meet the medical needs of its residents without resorting to MaineCare expansion.
“On any given day, when a poor person comes into my office, I am able to take care of them with the resources we have today,” she said. “The resources are right there, without MaineCare having to expand.”
Maine has already expanded benefits and eligibility for its Medicaid program, she said. Private, subsidized health insurance is available to low-income Mainers through the federal exchange established by the ACA. And the state’s hospitals provide care at no charge to those in need, she added.
When asked if hospitals can afford such reliance on their charitable services, Vachon said, “The hospitals were in the red because of Medicaid expansion the first time. They weren’t being reimbursed for Medicaid.”
She also said the greater availability of private insurance through the federal exchange benefits hospitals, since private plans offer them more favorable reimbursement.
In addition, Vachon said private insurance is better for those who are insured, since unlike MaineCare, private coverage is “portable” and doesn’t end at the state border.
“In short, private insurance paired with free care is a win for all,” Vachon said.
Besides her focus on health care, Vachon said she is looking for ways to reduce taxes for Mainers, which she called “a huge concern.” If elected, she said she’d explore elimination of the state income tax, in order to attract business and a younger workforce.
She also feels the Legislature should address the state’s energy costs, although she admitted she doesn’t have a “strong grasp” of energy-related issues.
As a legislator, Vachon said she would be open to learning and considering all points of view.
“I’m the type of person who likes to get under the hood,” she said. “Every idea can be put on the table. You don’t know what you don’t know.”