January 8, 2014

More than 200 Mainers, including many who have been personally affected by the state’s failure to accept federal funding to expand-health care coverage, gathered at the Statehouse for a rally and lobby day organized by the Maine People’s Alliance.

“As a nurse, many of the patients I see every day wait until they are so sick that we can’t help them the way that we should, and their health deteriorates even more,” said Jessie Mellott, from Bangor. “They lose limbs. They may never get back to their previous health due to lack of access to care. A lot of the time, these are easy things to fix, if they were addressed in time. I urge the Legislature to help me care for my patients and take the important step of

Attendees urged legislators returning to Augusta for the first day of the new legislative session to make accepting federal funds and expanding health care their top priority.

One of the personal stories highlighted was that of Richard Holt, a lobsterman and carpenter living in South Portland, who describes himself as a “Downeast Yankee Republican.” Currently building a new boat by hand, he has refused to take a tax exemption on his materials because of his belief that “you have to carry your own weight.” Recurring injuries and disability, however, have made it difficult for Holt to work and to afford to keep his home. He has relied on MaineCare to keep him going, but on December 31st he lost his coverage.

“Without MaineCare, my injuries will just keep getting worse and worse. I’ll just keep going until I can’t go anymore, and then they’ll throw you to the wolves, I guess,” said Holt. “I need it to make sure I can stay healthy enough to keep working for at least another four years before I qualify for Medicare.”

Almost 70,000 Mainers, including Holt, would be covered if Maine accepted federal funding to expand health care. More than a dozen of those who would be directly affected shared their stories publicly at the rally in the Statehouse’s Hall of Flags.

“When I found out I had seriously aggressive cancer, I was able to access MaineCare, and that was life-saving for me,” said Laura Tasheiko of Northport. “I was dropped and left without coverage as I continue my recovery from the ongoing and debilitating effects of cancer, surgery, and chemotherapy treatment. MaineCare is essential for the monitoring and care needed to avoid a medical crisis from medication complications or even death, in the event of the cancer coming back.”

“We are so grateful to the people who came today to talk to lawmakers about the importance of this life-saving health care,” said Speaker of the House Mark Eves of North Berwick, who is sponsoring a new measure to accept federal Medicaid dollars under the Affordable Care Act. “What we heard today is what we hear from our neighbors at home: people want and need life-saving health care. They don’t understand why politics and ideology are holding up common-sense care.”

Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government has pledged to pay 100 percent of the costs of health care for tens of thousands of Mainers for three years.

The governor vetoed a bipartisan compromise measure earlier this year that would have accepted the funds for three years with a sunset clause, opt-out provision, and maximum co-pays. As a result of the veto, nearly 25,000 low-income Mainers, including 15,000 parents, lose coverage beginning in January and 55,000 other low-income Mainers will not be eligible for health-care coverage.

According to a Harvard Study, Maine could prevent around 395 deaths per year by accepting federal funds.

“Today in the halls of the Statehouse, we heard why expanding health care to tens of thousands of Mainers is a top priority. The stakes are high — people’s lives and well-being are on the line,” said Senate President Justin Alfond of Portland. “Expanding health care is the right thing to do morally, and it’s the right economic decision. Making sure folks have access to health care without the fear of going bankrupt is something we all value, and it’s something we will continue fighting for.”