As a registered nurse in Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center’s emergency department for several years, I saw our state’s health care crisis up close and personal.
I dealt with folks addicted to opioids with no place to go for proper treatment. There were elderly people with blood pressure out of control because they’d been splitting their costly pills with spouses. Others skipped them altogether to pay for heat. Some patients were so fearful of insurance copays and deductibles they’d only drag themselves into the hospital when they were too sick to go on, which made them much more expensive to treat.
I wish Rep. Bruce Poliquin could have experienced some of those heartbreaking cases. Then maybe he wouldn’t have voted twice in nine months for huge tax cuts that mostly benefit the wealthy and corporations while endangering health care for Maine’s working families.
He made his first wrong choice last December. That’s when he supported the GOP’s $2 trillion tax cut boondoggle that this year hands over a fifth of the benefits to the wealthiest 1 percent, pushing the federal deficit to $779 billion, the highest in six years. Then just last month he did it again, voting for a second round of tax cuts that this time will give the top 20 percent of earners nearly two-thirds of the benefits and cost a staggering $3 trillion through 2038.
Someone has to pay for all these handouts to the wealthy. Would you be surprised to learn that someone is you? Just a few short months after President Donald Trump signed the Republicans’ first tax giveaway bill into law, he unveiled a budget that cut $1.3 trillion from Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act.
Apparently not content with the size of the slice the president was taking out of Americans’ health care, Poliquin’s Republican House colleagues later called for a whopping $2 trillion in cuts to those three programs.
In both instances, the health care cuts are accompanied by hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to other vital services, such as housing, food aid and disability benefits.
Mainers are already struggling with their governor to get the expansion of MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program, they voted for last year. They don’t need Poliquin, Trump and their allies in Washington trying to deny them care as well. Even before his misguided tax votes, Poliquin voted to scrap the ACA altogether, which would have exposed over half a million Mainers with pre-existing conditions to higher insurance premiums or complete loss of coverage.
Here’s how the tax cuts versus health cuts tradeoff breaks down in our state. Under the GOP tax law, fewer than 7,000 Mainers make up the richest 1 percent. Their average income is almost $1.3 million per year; they will each get an average tax cut of roughly $32,000 every year.
Meanwhile, the 470,000 Mainers on Medicare or MaineCare are threatened with service reductions to help pay for those tax cuts.
Nationwide, Medicare recipients have average annual incomes of about $26,000 — less than the tax cut for the top 1 percent in Maine. Until we can force Gov. Paul LePage to uphold the will of the people and expand MaineCare, a family of three must still make less than $22,000 to qualify for the program.
There’s a lot we could do to improve health care with the $5 trillion Poliquin wants to give away in tax cuts disproportionately benefiting the wealthy and big corporations, including greedy drug companies and health insurers.
Here’s an idea: Rather than refuse to fully implement the ACA, cut its funding or abolish it altogether, why not improve it? I have close friends and relatives who make too much to qualify for MaineCare or to get enough of a subsidy to afford private insurance on the ACA exchange. Let’s figure out how to get everyone covered.
Even social problems that don’t immediately seem connected to health care are often related. I’m sure Bangor’s rising homelessness can in part be traced to the lack of sufficient treatment facilities for mental illness and addiction.
I grew up in Rangeley and have been a nurse in Bangor for 10 years. My husband is a paramedic. I know Maine’s health care needs. They’re not served by giving huge, unpaid tax cuts to millionaires and corporations. I only wish Poliquin knew that as well.
Erin Oberson is a registered nurse at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.
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