“These are people. This isn’t ideology.”
That was Sen. Angus King on the Senate floor last week. He was speaking against President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
King was speaking about the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans, including new Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, have pledged to repeal.
King is passionate about the value of health insurance, a lesson that hit home for him 40 years ago when he was diagnosed with melanoma. As a Senate staffer, he had health insurance, got needed tests, and had surgery, and he is very much alive. He wants others to have that chance.
King explained the math to his Senate colleagues Thursday. Studies show that for every 1 million people without health insurance, 1,000 will die. The Affordable Care Act covers 22 million people. If these people lose their insurance, 22,000 will die prematurely.
“These are people. This isn’t ideology. These are people,” King said on the Senate floor. “To ignore that and say we want free markets and free choice? Free choice means death to a lot of people. It meant death to a young man who had what I had 40 years ago who didn’t have insurance, didn’t get a checkup and didn’t have surgery.
“He’s gone and I’m here, and that’s not fair.”
Each is the consequence of decisions made by Gov. Paul LePage and top administrators at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. Those decisions are based on an ideology that reducing the number of people who receive government assistance is good, no matter what happens to the people who need that help, usually only temporarily.
It is an ideology that misses one important point: These decisions hurt people, real people.
The percentage of children living in deep poverty — family earnings of less than $10,000 a year — is growing faster in Maine than in any other state. From 2011 to 2015, the proportion of Maine children living in extreme poverty grew at eight times the national average, according to data from the Maine Center for Economic Policy. About 43,000 children in Maine are living in poverty, defined as a family income of about $20,000 or less for a family of three.
These children, generally, will likely do worse in school, they will be less likely to go to college, and they’re likely to earn less as adults.
They also tend to go hungry. More than 23 percent of Maine children were food insecure in 2014, a slight increase from 2013, according to data from the Kids Count data center.
Overall, 15.8 percent of Maine households reported food insecurity between 2013 and 2015. Of this total, 7.4 percent of Maine households reported very low food security, according to data from the Economic Research Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Very low food insecurity means that food intake of one or more household members was reduced and eating patterns disrupted because of insufficient money and other resources for food.
The percentage of Maine households with very low food security was the third highest in the nation, behind Louisiana and Mississippi and tied with Arkansas.
These numbers mean that more than 200,000 Mainers are struggling with hunger, even as DHHS has restricted who is eligible for food aid.
As King says, “these are people.” And, we — lawmakers, LePage administration officials, newspaper readers — should all care when they are struggling.