Could we take back healthcare with a people’s referendum in Maine?

BY RAMONA DU HOUX

September 26th, 2013 

Editorial by Ramona du Houx

Citizens in Maine have the unique ability to create laws outside of the Capitol with the referendum process. Over recent years, voters have weighed in and won referendums that have increased the affordability of a college education and given equality to gays and lesbians to marry. Voters have shown they know how to cut through political rhetoric and do what is right.

Maine’s democratic process has proven over and over again that the voice of the people counts.

The referendum process is also a safety valve when there is gridlock in Augusta. Like releasing a logjam to allow logs to flow down the river, the referendum releases the power of the people to vote on issues important to them. To insure the health and wellbeing of our neighbors, friends, families, and communities, Mainers sometimes need to take charge, in a democratic way, by using the referendum process.

In the spring, a poll showed that almost 70 percent of Mainers back the expansion of Medicaid, which is part of the Affordable Care Act’s implementation. But Governor LePage has repeatedly stated that folks in Maine on Medicaid, or MaineCare, cheat the system. His unsubstantiated claim is what he holds to be the gospel truth. He has refused to budge on his position calling it “welfare expansion,” even though the state would have gotten a great deal — $350 million in federal funds for Maine over the next three years.

Other extreme governor’s have realized that the ACA makes sense for their state economically and are embracing it with humility. After all, no state would logically reject free health care as it would help businesses, communities, and the economy.
But when lawmakers tried to pass the ACA, LePage vetoed it and not enough Republicans would join Democrats to achieve the two-thirds majority to override his veto. With the LePage administration, the Maine way of governing with compromise and collaboration has been replaced with ruling by confrontation and conflict.

Citizens testified in capitol hearings in favor of implementing the ACA, and hospitals wanted it.

Maine’s hospitals are the biggest receivers of Medicaid funds, which goes to pay doctors, nurses, and a wide range of medical professionals who take care of people when they are sick.

Health care should be a universal right. Economies are damaged when their healthcare systems are not functioning for all of their people. Over the past decade, health insurance costs have become prohibitive for individuals, families, and businesses, and deductibles have skyrocketed while restrictions worsened. And the working poor have been left out in the cold. So President Barack Obama focused on changing the system and, with bipartisan votes, created the ACA.

Where the ACA is being implemented with health insurance exchanges, costs for insurance plans have actually dropped. California, New Jersey, and New York have ACA success stories, but Maine is falling behind.

With the implementation of the Dirigo Health Reform Act, Maine covers a lot of the provisions in the ACA, like accepting pre-existing conditions, and the 2003 law would have made the transition into the ACA’s health insurance exchanges easier. But instead, LePage has put people’s lives at risk. Close to 70,000 people would have been insured by the ACA, but now they won’t have any health care at all.

Congressman Mike Michaud noted that the Medicaid expansion plan with the ACA would have helped Maine’s economy, protected rural hospitals, created nearly 4,500 jobs, and helped to improve the lives of men and women who work but can’t afford health insurance.

Treating people without health insurance requires hospital charity care, which amounted to $190 million in 2011. While that’s written off as bad debt, it also makes insurance premiums increase dramatically for the middle class.

More than 11,000 people were taken off the MaineCare rolls between February and May of 2013, according to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. An additional 10,500 adults with no dependent children and incomes less than $11,500 will see their coverage end this winter. More than 15,000 low-income parents will lose Medicaid coverage in January 2014 when more LePage administration changes to MaineCare take effect. All these people would have been covered with the ACA — at no cost to Maine.

The ACA lets states expand Medicaid to adults, making up to 133 percent of the poverty level or about $15,500 for an individual. The federal government offered to pay 100 percent of the costs for the expansion until 2016 when a portion of the costs would be shifted onto the state.

Many of these working people would have been eligible for federal subsidies to help them buy insurance with the ACA’s health insurance exchanges, but without those exchanges, that won’t happen.

There are also 25,000 childless adults on a waiting list for MaineCare.

At times like this, people’s referendums should be initiated. People in Maine look out for each other; they know that if you lend a helping hand it improves Maine and communities flourish — that’s the Maine way to govern.