Every vote matters: how close we came to saving lives by expanding MaineCare

Mario Moretto | BDN

A pro-MaineCare expansion protest in 2013 – Mario Moretto | BDN

No one expected MaineCare expansion to succeed in the recent session of the Maine Legislature. After all, a bipartisan measure to accept federal funding to expand health care coverage for nearly 70,000 Mainers had failed to overcome a veto by Governor Paul LePage in the previous session. With Republican gains in the 2014 election, prospects this year looked even more bleak.

Those expectations were correct. Not only did expansion fail to garner enough support to overcome a veto, it actually failed to even pass with a majority in the Senate, where it won some Republican support but still lost by a single vote.

As Maine Women’s Lobby Executive Director Eliza Townsend and I discussed on the latest episode of the Beacon Podcast, however, no one at the time knew just how critical that single vote would be. If the bill had passed, rather than go down to a veto as expected, it actually would have been one of the bills on the governors desk at the end of the session.

For some strange reason, he thought he could keep those bills longer than the time normally allowed and still veto them later. Pretty much everyone else disagreed and the Supreme Judicial Court eventually settled the matter and declared the bills, including some LePage vehemently opposed, to be law. If the vote in the Senate had gone the other way, MaineCare expansion could have been one of them.

There were some close races for Senate last year. A recount decided the winner in Senate District 11 between current Senate President Michael Thibodeau and his Democratic challenger (and MaineCare expansion supporter) Jonathan Fulford. It’s frustrating to think how a hundred ballots in Waldo County resulted in a one-vote margin in the Senate, preventing Maine from drawing down hundreds of millions of dollars of economy-boosting federal health care funds, denying needed health care and costing lives.

“Our state budget and rural hospitals and health clinics would benefit if we accept these federal funds, as would over 70,000 Maine people who would gain access to preventative and life-saving health care,” said Rep. Drew Gattine, House chair of the Health and Human Services Committee as the House passed the MaineCare bill this year. “We’re talking about small business owners, carpenters, craftspeople and other good hardworking Maine people. Without health insurance, an injury or serious illness could mean economic disaster for them. These Mainers are the core of our economy and deserve the health benefits and economic security that come with reliable health care coverage.”

During the initial debate over expanding MaineCare, researchers estimated that 157 Mainers a year would die as a result of a lack of care, and many more would suffer needlessly if Maine failed to accept federal funding. Now, we know some of their names and faces.

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that voting doesn’t matter.

Mike Tipping

About Mike Tipping

Mike is Maine's longest-writing political blogger and explores state politics and policy with a focus on analysis and explanation. He works at the Maine People's Alliance and Maine People's Resource Center.