If you were presented with an opportunity to provide access to affordable health care to 70,000 fellow Mainers, would you say yes? That is at the heart of the basic question facing the Maine Legislature this session.
I have been a strong, vocal supporter of the bill, which would provide access to health care to tens of thousands of Maine residents. It will be paid for using funds that have already been set aside as part of the existing federal budget. If we don’t use them, the funds will go to another state, and we could see our rural hospitals crumble.
The economic development reasons for supporting this legislation — thousands of jobs and millions of dollars — are clear, but it’s the many Mainers who need this health care that are the biggest reason I am saying yes. These are women and men looking for a little relief to help them get by. They are hard-working individuals, and if we could just provide something as basic as the ability to see a doctor when they get sick, they will have a better chance at success.
For example, last weekend I received an email about Dwight from Lincoln. He is one of the 200 people laid off from Lincoln Paper & Tissue after the boiler explosion a few months ago. Dwight is a long-time member of the United Steel Workers, and even though he and his wife have worked hard all their lives, they are now without any real options for health care. Dwight and his family did nothing wrong. They simply are caught in a difficult situation.
While they are working hard to find new opportunities, they are left without health care. This creates an enormous burden of risk. What happens if someone in Dwight’s family gets sick, breaks a bone, or needs a new medication? They will end up requiring care or treatment that they cannot afford, so they will likely not schedule a doctor’s appointment and will end up in the emergency room.
Taking advantage of these federal funds will help Dwight and his family get back on their feet and will allow them to take one worry off their plate.
Tifani, who gave me permission to use her first name, is another example of a life on the line without Medicaid expansion. I first met Tifani at a “Take Back the Night” event at the University of Maine. Tifani has been through a lot. She has experienced sexual assault, domestic violence, substance abuse and poverty, but has persevered through it all to become sober and go to school. She is attending the University of Maine, so she can achieve her dream of becoming a counselor to help others.
I ran into Tifani in the supermarket a couple of months ago and asked how things were going. Tifani is always optimistic and positive, but something wasn’t right. She told me that on Jan. 1, she lost Medicaid coverage because she is a “non-categorical,” a childless adult who doesn’t qualify for coverage anymore. Tifani has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, ADHD and other conditions. She needs Medicaid to get the essential prescriptions that enable her to attend school, further herself and start a career where she can help others.
Tifani is not in school this semester but instead is training for a job and trying to cobble together some prescriptions with few resources, to try and avoid disaster. You’d never know her life is a daily obstacle course — because she always wears a smile. But right now, her dream of helping others has been put on hold until Maine says yes to Medicaid expansion.
These stories are not the exception; they are the reality for families across Maine. We have an opportunity as a state to help 70,000 Mainers, including 3,000 veterans, right now. Most of these Mainers have jobs and work hard but don’t have access to affordable health care.
I have already voted yes. Gov. Paul LePage has said he will veto it. Standing in the way of access to health care for thousands of Maine families is wrong.
I applaud my colleagues, Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, and Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, for reaching across the aisle to support expansion. Ensuring that the most vulnerable residents of our state are able to see a doctor when they get sick isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue. It should be a Maine priority and an American priority.
As elected officials, we know this is an important vote. But as citizens of Maine, everyone can make a difference by encouraging your representatives to vote yes on this legislation. It will help thousands of our neighbors and save lives.
State Sen. Emily Cain, D-Orono, is running as a candidate in the Democratic primary for the Second Congressional District.