Why Maine’s Medicaid Battle Matters

By D. Allan Kerr

Earlier this month, nearly 60% of Maine voters chose to expand Medicaid for their fellow citizens in need. Almost immediately, the guy currently occupying the governor’s office set out – yet again – to subvert the people’s will.

“The truth is that Medicaid expansion will just give able-bodied adults free health care,” said Paul LePage – who has already vetoed five previous attempts by the state’s legislature to expand the program.

Not surprisingly, this is a lie. After all, this is the same guy who tried to blame the state’s out-of-control drug problem on black men from out of state who also “impregnate a young white girl before they leave.”

The truth is that LePage is another politician willing to pit people against each other for his own benefit instead of trying to bring them together – which of course takes much more effort.

A friend of mine works with Medicaid recipients in another state, on the front lines of the current health care battle. You know who benefits from this program?

  • A 35-year-old lumberjack who was three days on a job when a tree fell on him, paralyzing him from the chest down. Now he requires a personal care provider to help him bathe – but he’s also able to work a part-time job and remain a contributing member of society.

Injured construction worker fallen off ladder

  • A roofer who used to work 70 hours a week until he fell off a roof in his 30s and is now confined to a wheelchair. A personal care provider gets his groceries, does his laundry and cleans his house.
  • A 24-year-old woman with a brain tumor who was able to remain home with her parents. This program provided the parents much-needed respite and assistance with her care until their daughter died.
  • A 40-year-old guy with Lou Gehrig’s disease.
  • A couple who had a fabulous home and high-paying jobs until she was struck by a drunk driver and suffered brain damage. Her husband insisted on caring for her in their home but became so overwhelmed they wound up living in squalor until he, too, became sick and died.

In other words, folks who but for the grace of God could be any one of us.

Hospitals bills are the number-one cause of bankruptcy in the United States, higher than credit card debt and the like. In the state where my friend works, it costs about $17,000 a year to care for people in their own homes, as opposed to $56,000 a year to put them up in nursing facilities.

The referendum approved by voters this month expands Medicaid to incomes of $16,642 for an individual, and $24,600 for a family of two. Does it really seem unreasonable these folks might need assistance during times of illness or other health issues?

I know sometimes people’s eyes glaze over when they see a bunch of numbers – I’m the same way – but take a moment to think about what these numbers really mean. Think about the people these numbers represent.

People don’t ask to live in poverty. People don’t choose medical catastrophe. But it makes sense to have a system in place for when those situations occur.

In addition, these programs enable citizens to seek preventative care as opposed to waiting until an emergency-room situation, when it may be too late.

LePage will try to convince constituents programs like Medicaid only enable those too lazy and unmotivated to work.

I like to think folks realize Medicaid helps young families just starting out, those who might be between jobs or in transition, and those who are simply having hard times right now. Investing in these citizens helps ensure they’ll be contributing members of society in the future.

LePage Squint 2Either LePage is too short-sighted to realize this or he’s more obsessed with dismantling the Obama legacy than allowing people to get the help they need when they need it most.

And let’s not forget, this expansion brings $500 million in federal funding into the state, which creates jobs and allows agencies to meet staffing needs so they no longer have to turn away folks in need. With our ongoing opioid crisis throughout New England, access to these kinds of programs is more crucial than ever.

LePage has repeatedly shown a preference of doing what he wants, the legal process be damned.

Here in Kittery, the town is trying to get back our local John Paul Jones Park, which under state care has become rather unsightly. The state legislature passed a measure to transfer the park to the town, then the legislature overrode LePage’s veto, then all the necessary agencies signed off on it.

However, the process has been stalled for more than two years now on LePage’s desk, merely because he doesn’t feel like signing it.

Thankfully, it seems like some Maine lawmakers are drawing a line in the sand on the Medicaid challenge.

“Let me be clear: we will be fully and faithfully implementing this law,” Speaker of the House Sara Gideon said after LePage’s pledge to derail the effort. “Any attempts to illegally delay or subvert this law will not be tolerated and will be fought with every recourse at our disposal.”

Jared Golden, the House assistant majority leader, is running for the state’s 2nd U.S. congressional seat based on a “Mainers don’t leave each other behind” philosophy. He knows something about this, having served with the Marine Corps in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Despite any efforts by Governor LePage and his allies, we will not abandon the families who, for too long, have had to choose between putting food on the table or paying for needed medical care,” Golden said this month. “Every representative who continues to oppose that right (to health care) should know they’re on notice by the people of Maine.”

CNSPhoto-Monk-SimpsonsIt may be time for Mainers to take up their torches and pitchforks.

(November 25, 2017)

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