Health Care Expansion Fight Heats Up

The Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, set aside federal funds to cover more people through Medicaid (MaineCare) in each state. These funds are meant to cover 100% of the new costs through 2016, and then taper off to a permanent rate of 90% coverage from 2020 forward. The Supreme Court decision in 2012 upheld the law, but struck down the provision that required states to expand their Medicaid programs, making it an opt-in program.

Not accepting the federal funds leaves a coverage gap for some of our poorest friends and neighbors. People who make less than 100% of federal poverty level do not qualify for subsidies through the Affordable Care Act because their income is too low. Without MaineCare, they have no options for affordable health insurance.

In 2013, Maine’s legislature voted to accept the funds, but Governor LePage vetoed their decision. The legislature was only 3 votes shy of the needed two-thirds majority to overturn the veto.

Because of that veto and previous cuts made by the LePage administration, nearly 25,000 people lost MaineCare in 2013: 10,000 childless adults below the federal poverty line and 14,500 parents making 100%-138% of the federal poverty level. Accepting the federal funds would restore health care for these people and cover an additional 45,000 Mainers who would be eligible for insurance for the first time.

This year, Maine’s legislature has another opportunity to overrule Governor LePage and accept the funding for health care for these 70,000 people.

Lawmakers that refuse an opportunity to cover uninsured people are telling many of their constituents that their lives do not matter. A recent study from Harvard found that around 157 Maine people will die needlessly in just the first year if the Legislature fails to accept the federal funds. Countless more people will be left suffering.
Not only will accepting the federal funds save and improve lives, but it will create jobs, help the economy. The Maine Center for Economic Policy estimates that expansion will create 4,400 new jobs and the Alliance for a Just Society has determined that the majority of these will be high-wage, economy-boosting jobs, mostly in health care professions.

The vote may also impact this year’s legislative elections. According to a recent poll conducted by Maine People’s Resource Center, 69% of voters in swing districts support accepting federal funds for health care and 53% said if their state representative voted against accepting
federal funds they would be less likely to support them in November. With so much at stake, MPA has been doing everything possible to help make sure Maine’s legislators do the right thing
this time around. Since 2013 statewide canvass teams have knocked on 75,098 doors and engaged in 40,283 conversations with Mainers on their doorsteps about the issue. Phone canvassers have held 12,420 conversations with Mainers about the bill and 4,752 Mainers have made small grassroots donations to fund our campaign.

On January 8th 2014, MPA organized a large “Health Care First” day of action at the State House. Nearly 400 people participated, making it the largest mobilization at the legislature in MPA’s history. Participants attended a large rally and press event in the Hall of Flags, heard the stories of 25 Mainers whose lives may depend on expanding coverage and then spoke with their legislators about their votes.

The most powerful spokespeople are those with a personal story, and MPA’s grassroots campaign has focused on elevating the voices and stories of Mainers who are directly affected by the MaineCare cuts or who would be eligible with the expansion in coverage. 103 individuals who would directly benefit from accepting federal funds to expand MaineCare have already been identified by MPA staff and volunteers. These folks have told their stories on January 8th, the following week at the Public Hearing, and every Thursday since in the State House. They have also shared their stories in meetings with legislators, our Faces of MaineCare video series, and in the media.

Constant pressure on key legislators is the way to win, and MPA is making sure they are hearing from folks both at home and in the State House. In the past several weeks, our canvassers have collected 471 personalized, handwritten notes from constituents in target communities about how the issue affects their families and communities. Every Thursday Mainers are gathering in the State House to demonstrate that lives are on the line if the legislature doesn’t pass the bill.

If you would like to join in this effort, please call 797-0967 to find out more details on the next “lives on the line” event at the State House. Please also call your state representative and senator to make sure they vote the right way. Bills LD 1578 (sponsored by Speaker Eves) and LD 1640 (sponsored by Sen. Jackson) have been put forward to accept the federal funds.