Access to affordable health care unifies Maine voters
Over 65,000 voters from all 16 counties in Maine signed a citizens' initiative petition on Election Day to improve access to affordable health coverage. Voters have clearly spoken: access to affordable health care is critical to all Mainers. Medicaid expansion provides a solution that can’t wait.
While there is much speculation about how health care policy will change at the federal level, Maine cannot afford to wait to take action. The overwhelming success of Maine’s signature gathering effort on Election Day is a strong signal to state and federal policy makers that Mainers expect them to do more, not less to improve access to affordable health care. Maine can and should accept the Federal health care funds now. If lawmakers in Augusta do not act swiftly, petitioners will likely take this question to the voters in 2017.
Maine Equal Justice Partners Executive Director Robyn Merrill said, “The success of this signature gathering effort demonstrates the strong passion of Mainers when it comes to health care. Hundreds of volunteers came forward to spend Election Day talking with voters and collecting signatures. People from all walks of life, concerned about the cost of health care, were eager to sign the petition, making this one of the fastest signature gathering efforts in recent memory. Over the course of Election Day, signature gatherers heard from construction workers, health care workers, food service and tourism workers, veterans and many others who do not have access or couldn’t afford health care coverage or who struggle to pay for coverage.“
”It was striking that a large number of signers spontaneously shared emotional accounts of the stress they and/or their loved ones experienced when they were unable to access affordable health care” said Dr. Barbara Covey, who volunteered to collect signatures in Oakland on Election Day. “We heard heart-wrenching stories from people who could not afford to see a doctor and ended up in the emergency room, people foregoing needed medications and more.” Even those voters with health insurance coverage said they are struggling to pay their ever-increasing premiums, deductibles and prescription costs and they also signed the petition. These voters realize that losing their job could mean total loss of their families’ health insurance coverage. They understand that expanding MaineCare is a step in the right direction and they agree that it is the right thing to do.
Pete Sirois of Madison who volunteered along with his wife Joy noted that the desire for more affordable health care coverage is not a partisan issue, commenting, “When collecting signatures we realized that the need for expanded health care crossed over political party and even ideological lines. Expanding health care in Maine would not only improve our health and improve our economy but would also unite many good people in a common cause.”
Individuals who collected signatures will continue to remind our elected leaders that voters across the state have spoken clearly: we need more access to affordable health care for all Mainers. Nothing less is acceptable. If the legislature cannot get this done prior to January 26th, Maine voters could use the citizen’s initiative referendum process to address this important issue at the ballot in November of 2017.