The state that is leading the way on health care
Could a state in one of the farthest corners of our country finally help us turn a corner on health care? It looked like that on Tuesday when the people of Maine voted decisively to expand Medicaid over the wishes of their governor, Paul LePage, bringing health care coverage to 70,000 people in the state, many for the first time.
This extraordinary ballot box accomplishment by state voters — and by grass-roots organizers — could potentially spark a movement across the country to expand and lock in Medicaid access, bringing health care to millions of Americans. It’s already happening in Alaska and Utah, where similar campaigns are getting off the ground. Idaho may be next.
And local groups around the country have been watching closely to see if success in Maine could herald potential success in their own states.
Maine’s governor had vetoed expansion five times, so voters took matters into their own hands. Mainers have shown they understand what it means when you don’t have access to health care. They were moved to action by their deep compassion for fellow citizens, something that’s noticeably missing from proposals on Capitol Hill that could take away health care from tens of millions of people.
Take Kathleen Phelps of Wilton, Maine.
Phelps has been a hairdresser for 30 years and suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, a lung disease that makes it difficult to breathe. Until Tuesday, Phelps didn’t qualify for Medicaid because she earns a little too much, but is too young for Medicare. She is often faced with the agonizing, impossible decision of whether to pay her bills or pay for her oxygen.
Now Phelps will finally be covered by Medicaid. There are millions of Americans just like her, having to make life or death choices because they can’t get coverage. Our elected leaders have a moral obligation to fight for people without care, and when they avoid that responsibility, citizens will take action to control their own destiny.
There has been much debate in Washington about what “the people” want. But the people have been quite clear. Americans of every political persuasion want affordable and comprehensive health care for themselves, their families and for the most vulnerable in their communities. In fact, just this week, with no marketing or publicity from the federal government, a record number of people signed up for health coverage under the ACA in the first few days of open enrollment.
They are a rebuke to many conservative politicians in Congress, who claim to be fulfilling the will of voters, even as they are championing proposals that would leave families worse off, grappling with exorbitant health care costs and struggling with pre-existing conditions. The proposals Congress has put forward would also greatly diminish our national commitment to the most vulnerable in our society by stripping federal support from Medicaid.
It was such “repeal and replace” attempts this year that sparked a national awakening, showing that our collective voices can have real power: Supporters of the Affordable Care Act blocked an effort in Congress to overturn it and dismantle our nation’s safety net. It felt like the entire nation was sitting on the edge of its seat in July as Sen. John McCain followed his colleagues, Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, and delivered the last word with his thumbs down vote.
But the threat didn’t end there, or even a few weeks later when another vote failed. Just last week, members of Congress proposed paying for part of their tax plan by eliminating a deduction for Americans with high medical costs.
And more recently, President Donald Trump bluntly called for undermining the ACA by eliminating the individual mandate as part of the tax reform package, which would raise the cost of health care for those who need it most.Fortunately, in the face of this relentless attack on our health care, Maine has demonstrated that ballot initiatives are a powerful way for Americans to go on offense in support of their quality of life. At a time when everyone expects health care to go in one direction — with fewer people getting more expensive coverage — voters stood up with one voice and said “no” to political gamesmanship and insisted on taking care of the most vulnerable. It won’t be the last time.