Off year elections, with no statewide candidates, aren’t always exciting. They don’t offer the drama of choosing new leaders. But this Tuesday, November 7, Maine has the opportunity to fix a massive public policy mistake. By voting Yes on Question 2, we can override the Governor’s repeated veto of bills to expand Medicaid, accepting available federal funds as many other Republican chief executives states have. By voting to take a new direction on Medicaid, we can invigorate our economy, strengthen our workforce, and take bold action toward rebuilding a just and prosperous Maine.
Last March, I wrote about Kathy, whom I met back when Mainers for Health Care first announced their drive to put Medicaid expansion on the ballot. Kathy has worked hard for decades as a hairdresser, yet she can’t afford on her limited income to pay for the oxygen she needs to stay healthy and productive, to live without daily gasps for breath. Federal funds are available to expand Medicaid so that Kathy can have coverage to pay for that crucial medical help. Accepting those funds – which are part of the original design of the Affordable Care Act, would have enormous benefits for Maine’s economy while delivering critically needed help to many of Maine’s poorest workers and families.
Once expansion becomes law in Maine, the program will grow over a few years to provide half a billion dollars annually in new federal heath care spending in Maine – $9 new federal dollars for every state dollar spent. This new funding is an investment in providing health care for those with incomes too low to afford private commercial premiums. That investment, in turn, would generate new economic activity and jobs, on the order of $700 million each year. We have been missing out on this economic activity every year since new federal funds became available – a mistake we now have an extraordinary opportunity to correct by voting Yes on 2 this Tuesday.
The Affordable Care Act, which provides these funds, remains in effect – in part because many across our nation now recognize that using the successful Medicaid program to provide more access to affordable health care is crucially important to our common well-being and prosperity. That’s why outright repeal of Obamacare has now been rejected repeatedly by the United States Senate, thanks in part to courageous leadership by Maine Senators Collins and King.
The Maine Legislature has passed bills to accept Medicaid expansion funds 5 times, and each time the Governor has thwarted the measure by exercising his veto power. The Governor’s reasons, reiterated in the current campaign opposing Question 2, simply don’t hold water:
Opponents claim that vulnerable people, like those with intellectual disabilities on waiting lists for services, will lose out if we expand Medicaid to help more low-income people. Yet the states that have done the best at eliminating waiting lists for other Medicaid recipients are almost all states that also expanded Medicaid as Maine would under Question 2. A study by those focused on services to the intellectually disabled found that expansion states have increased their fiscal effort for these vulnerable individuals much more than states that rejected the new federal funds.
Opponents suggest that Medicaid expansion will harm the commercial insurance market, yet most commercial insurers support Medicaid expansion. Kevin Lewis, CEO of Maine’s nonprofit health insurer, Maine Community Health Options, has explicitly and emphatically supported Question 2.
Opponents have , paradoxically, claimed that hospitals want to “line their pockets” by expanding Medicaid but also that Medicaid won’t pay enough to meet health care costs. Yet health care providers, including the Maine Hospital Association, the Maine Medical Association, the Maine Primary Care Association, and many individuals in the health professions, have strongly supported expansion.
Finally, opponents argue that the fate of the ACA is too uncertain, and that we can’t count on these federal funds remaining available. This argument elevates fear of an uncertain future above action to help our neighbors and our economy right now. It suggests that we should shrink from decisive action because the federal government might someday take funding away. Yet we are part of one of the most prosperous and powerful nations on earth, and all comparably developed nations already provide health care for all of their people. Is it reasonable to believe that, as a society, we will allow our government to do even less than it does now to do what our peers all over the planet can do to deliver health coverage? Without doubt we have the wealth and capacity to do better, not worse.
By voting Yes on 2 this coming Tuesday, we will send a strong message to our government – we will tell our State Legislature that we agree with their 5 votes to accept Medicaid expansion funds; we will tell our Governor that we reject his repeated vetoed of expansion because its benefits are too compelling. And we will tell Congress and our fellow Americans that we want more access to health care, not less, and that we know this can be accomplished. We will press all those who represent us to keep working toward comprehensive, fair, affordable access to health care for everyone.
Voting yes on 2 on November 7 is a practical, affordable choice that also sends a powerful message. Yes on 2 says we aren’t afraid to tackle the problems of health care cost and access without denying the neediest among us the care they must have to remain productive members of society. Yes on 2 says we won’t be deterred from addressing the problems in front of us by unfounded fears that a great state and a great nation can’t afford to care for its own.
If you’ve followed me so far, I have one last plea. Don’t just nod in agreement – please go to vote if you haven’t voted early. This is an off, off year election – no candidates for state office will draw us to the polls. Those who show up and vote in this election will have an extraordinary impact, and those who stay home could have a devastating one as well.
People who want to stay well enough to keep working but can’t afford health care need your vote. People caring for others and needing care for their own health need your vote. Helping them all boosts our economy. Please, go while the polls are open on Tuesday, and make an extraordinary difference for our State: move our public policy away from defeatist, fatalistic thinking, toward hopeful insistence using our collective resources to build a fair and successful future. .