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 State House today for a rally and lobby day organized by the Maine People's Alliance. Attendees told their own personal stories and 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 afloat, 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 4 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 State House's Hall of Flags.
"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, a Registered Nurse from Bangor, introducing the speakers. "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 expanding Medicaid services for 70,000 Maine people."
"I am a veteran of the U.S. Navy and lost my MaineCare coverage on December 31st," said Thomas Ptacek of Portland. "My family has a history of multiple sclerosis and I worry that I, too, may have it someday. But my VA benefits are limited and will not cover the cost of preventative care or any treatment for the disease. I need MaineCare for that."
"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."
Pastor Rick Ness of Wales Presbyterian Church closed the event by discussing the Parable of the Good Samaritan and the universality of human morality.
"We have the opportunity to make access to health care better or worse. I say for those of us of faith let us be guided to choose better. We are called to shine light on those in darkness, to heal the broken and not leave them by the side of the road," said Ness. "To my neighbors, my fellow citizens and to those who have heard the call to be our legislators, I implore you to choose light over darkness."