Over 65,000 Mainers Sign on for Health Care Referendum Ballot

Access to affordable health care unifies Maine voters

By Ramona du Houx

Over 65,000 voters from all 16 counties in Maine signed a citizens’ initiative petition  to improve access to affordable health coverage. Voters have clearly spoken: access to affordable health care is critical to all Mainers. Medicaid expansion provides a solution that can’t wait.

If Maine becomes part of the Affordable Care Act, by accepting federal Medicaid funds, thousands still without health insurance will get the care they need.

The people of Maine have found the citizen's initiative referendum process key to getting laws passed that Republicans, led by Gov. LePage, have stopped in Augusta. The referendum has recently given the people the power to stop LePage's vetoes. The minimum wage was recently increased by referendum process after being vetoed many times.

“It was striking that a large number of signers spontaneously shared emotional accounts of the stress they and/or their loved ones experienced when they were unable to access affordable health care,” said Dr. Barbara Covey, who volunteered to collect signatures in Oakland. “We heard heart-wrenching stories from people who could not afford to see a doctor and ended up in the emergency room, people foregoing needed medications and more.” 

While there is much speculation about how health care policy will change at the federal level, Maine cannot afford to wait to take action. The overwhelming success of Maine’s signature gathering effort is a strong signal to state and federal policy makers that Mainers expect them to do more, not less to improve access to affordable health care. Maine can and should accept the Federal health care funds now.  

“The success of this signature gathering effort demonstrates the strong passion of Mainers when it comes to health care. Hundreds of volunteers came forward to spend Election Day talking with voters and collecting signatures. People from all walks of life, concerned about the cost of health care, were eager to sign the petition, making this one of the fastest signature gathering efforts in recent memory. Over the course of Election Day, signature gatherers heard from construction workers, health care workers, food service and tourism workers, veterans and many others who do not have access or couldn’t afford health care coverage or who struggle to pay for coverage,” said Maine Equal Justice Partners Executive Director Robyn Merrill. 

Even those voters with health insurance coverage said they are struggling to pay their ever-increasing premiums, deductibles and prescription costs and they also signed the petition.  These voters realize that losing their job could mean total loss of their families’ health insurance coverage. They understand that expanding MaineCare is a step in the right direction and they agree that it is the right thing to do. 

Some have been able to sign up for Obamacare Insurance Like Sam Jawitz's family. Sam was born almost two years ago in mid-coast Maine with a birth defect that left his throat unconnected to his stomach. His first month of care cost about $100,000. Without Obamacare insurance, his parents would have gone deeply into debt, and Sam would have missed out on essential follow-up care and therapy. Today, is a healthy toddler and likes to break into dance for no reason. What life deals Democrats or Republicans is unpredictable. Many Mainers believe universal healthcare for all, should be a right.

Pete Sirois of Madison who volunteered along with his wife Joy noted that the desire for more affordable health care coverage is not a partisan issue, commenting, “When collecting signatures we realized that the need for expanded health care crossed over political party and even ideological lines. Expanding health care in Maine would not only improve our health and improve our economy but would also unite many good people in a common cause.”

Individuals who collected signatures will continue to remind our elected leaders that voters across the state have spoken clearly: we need more access to affordable health care for all Mainers. Nothing less is acceptable.

If the legislature fails to act prior to January 26th, the citizen’s initiative referendum process at the ballot in November of 2017 will.

Some wonder why do this with Congress ready to repeal Obamacare.

Why do this now, given the uncertainty at the federal level about the future of the ACA/Medicaid Expansion?

The ACA is still the law of the land.  States can still expand access to health coverage through Medicaid.  Maine people support this initiative. Moving forward sends a strong message that Maine people want more, not less in the days ahead.

  • Signals from Washington are that ACA Marketplace and Medicaid coverage will remain intact for at least 2, maybe more, years.
  • Mainers want policymakers to work together and do everything possible to meet the health care needs of all people in our state, especially those with low income who can’t possibly afford coverage.

When are you filing?  Will you file in time for 2017 election? 

It’s possible that signatures would be filed by January 26, 2017, in time to put this on the 2017 November Election Day ballot. This will ensure that we keep every option open to improve access to affordable health coverage available to Maine people. 

How many signatures are required to get this on the ballot?

We must submit certified signatures totaling 10 percent of the votes cast for Governor in 2014 (61,123).

 Is there a risk to having this on the ballot?

No.  Maine people support Medicaid and see it as a lifeline for many.  Expanding access to health coverage through MaineCare has passed through Maine’s legislature five times.  Unfortunately, the Governor and handful of Republican legislators have stopped this life saving policy from moving forward.  These few policymakers have ignored the will of Maine people and have ignored the evidence that clearly shows other states are benefiting. It’s important that affordable health care remains a focus of state and federal policy makers who must do more, not less, to make comprehensive health coverage more affordable.  

Who’s leading this effort?

People living and working in Maine.  Hundreds of Maine people volunteered to collect signatures across the state. Over 65,000 people from all walks of life joined the effort and signed the petition.  Many of the organizations supporting this initiative have worked with Maine people for over 4 years to pass this legislation that, unfortunately, has been thwarted by a minority of Republcan policy makers who voted against it purely for ideological reasons.  

Organizations supporting this initiative include Maine Equal Justice Partners, Maine Center for Economic Policy, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, Maine People’s Alliance and others.