With LePage, Maine becomes more of an outlier

On his first day in office earlier this week, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards took steps to expand access to health insurance for 300,000 people in his state.

Fulfilling a campaign promise, Edwards’ decision will improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and give his state’s economy a shot in the arm.

In Maine, things were a little different — and much more depressing.

Two reports issued by the Maine Health Access Foundation on Monday point to the failure of the state to take care of its people and the consequences of refusing to use federal dollars to expand access to health care through MaineCare.

And the burden for that decision is carried by young adults, people with less education, men and residents of rural areas. Many of them are working, but they just aren’t making enough money to afford health insurance even with the subsidies included in the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

According to one of the reports, while about 27 percent of adults in Maine ages 18-64 had incomes less than $25,000, 57 percent of the uninsured in 2014 fell into that category.

Across the country, the rate of people without insurance is declining. In Maine, that’s not the case. Gov. Paul LePage’s policies and his vetoes have stood in the way of reform that would help as many as 70,000 Maine people live healthier, happier and more productive lives.

In an op-ed published at the beginning of the year in the Portland Press Herald and teasing the reports, Barbara Leonard of Maine Health Access Foundation put it this way: “Over the past two years, the number of uninsured Maine people having difficulty paying medical bills has increased by about 10 percent, while nationally, the rate of those pressed to pay for health care has declined.”

Application forms for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act's health insurance marketplace. Jonathan Bachman | Reuters

Application forms for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance marketplace. Jonathan Bachman | Reuters

She goes on to say those people without health insurance are more likely to receive little medical care, receive care too late or receive poorer-quality care when they finally seek assistance, even after an emergency.

The end result: “Lack of insurance can be deadly for individuals and has broader ramifications for our communities.”

There’s a new bipartisan effort happening in Augusta to fix this problem and use federal dollars to expand access to care.

LePage has said he’ll veto it again. And his allies in the Maine House of Representatives are lining up once again to help him deny health insurance to thousands of people.

But the governor, never shy about grabbing a microphone, is hobbled.

The state is still caught in the whirlwind of LePage’s racist comments last week, in which he accused out-of-state drug dealers of coming to Maine to impregnate white girls.

The hateful remarks made national headlines, even making it onto The Daily Show, where they were sharply ridiculed.

Perhaps in an effort to distract from the ongoing controversy, the governor followed up by threatening to ignore his responsibility to deliver a State of the State Address, telling WVOM that he wasn’t really interested in talking to the Legislature since it’s likely to consider his impeachment.

There’s no way to know if he’s serious or not, or if he’ll reconsider and deliver the speech. There’s no use trying to predict the governor’s behavior.

And while impeachment may be a long shot, even though there is strong evidence that the governor abused his power, a formal censure from the Legislature is possible — perhaps even likely.

The governor’s most diehard supporters will never flinch. But heading into this election year, rural Republicans will have to explain why their allegiance to the governor is more important than health care for their constituents.

And every hate-filled bomb the governor throws, every ounce of ridicule he earns may win him points with his base, but it pushes independent and moderate voters in the opposite direction.

Upon taking office in Louisiana, Edwards was short and to the point about health care expansion: “This is the right thing to do. This is not even a close call.”

Louisiana joins 30 other states that have now said yes to providing health care to their people.

Maine, with LePage at the helm, is becoming more and more of an outlier, both in the way people view us and the way in which we act.

David Farmer

About David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at dfarmer14@hotmail.com.