TABOR: Not healthy for Maine or Mainers

Posted Oct. 20, 2009, at 6:40 p.m.

Three years ago, in the name of education, transportation, public health and common good, the public voted down TABOR. It is important to remember why we voted this way three years ago, because things such as a strong public infrastructure that supports the needs of communities have not changed.

TABOR undermines the need for a strong public health system, including emergency preparedness in the event of pandemic flu, education on cancer and chronic disease prevention, response to infectious disease epidemics, regulations on harmful products and chemicals and access to medically necessary health care options.

The campaign being run by the proponents of TABOR neglect to inform the public about the devastating consequences that will be felt should inflexible spending caps be placed on Maine government. Maine, as the “grayest” state in the nation, cannot afford to be subjected to these restrictions on health care expenditures when the cost of health care in both the public and private sector will only continue to increase with the demand.

Maine has the goal of being the healthiest state in the nation. Thanks to the dedication of the public, Legislature and gubernatorial officials, we are moving toward this goal.

Maine spends less than 1 percent of its entire health care expenditure on public health. In a time where a new public health infrastructure is being developed and the need for such a system is more necessary than ever — with H1N1, the obesity epidemic and federal health care reform the focus of much public need — now is not the time to undermine the hard work and progress of this crucial system. Passing TABOR would severely affect these systems, leaving them stunted and unable to grow as public demand increases.

In 1993, Colorado’s TABOR amendment took effect, subjecting residents to detrimental cuts to public health. The costly results were not worth the small savings to the taxpayer: Colorado now spends less on public health than any other state in the nation, with the lowest rates of prenatal care, the highest rate of uninsured low-income children, Medicaid spending near the lowest level in the country and employers spending some of the highest premiums to insure their staff. At one point, Colorado even suspended requirements that children be fully immunized before enrolling in school because there were not enough state funds to purchase vaccines. Are Maine families prepared to take the risk of subjecting their children to measles or Hepatitis B? The public health community is not, which is why the Maine Public Health Association is urging residents to vote No on 4 come Election Day.

TABOR proponents market their campaign as “relief” but the reality is that the lack of public services will only lead to greater need with inadequate supply. Those most in need of public health and social services, including children and the elderly, will struggle to obtain access to necessary health care and Mainers as a whole will be left without resources to oversee and provide public health interventions.

Let’s learn from Colorado’s mistakes: Don’t make Mainers suffer harmful cuts to essential public health services. Vote No on 4 on Nov. 3.

C. Shawn Yardley is president of the Maine Public Health Association board of directors. This commentary was written on behalf of the board.

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