MaineCare expansion opponents are venting their frustrations in the wrong direction

Dear Question 2 Opponents:

I did my best to take in justifications for opposing the expansion of MaineCare to 138 percent of poverty, as allowed under the ACA.

Researching your side wasn’t easy. Engaging with conservative views on “welfare” usually means getting frustrated with a lack of context, nuance and subtly that might reflect detailed knowledge of the social service world.

Just the name of the PAC funding the website behind the opposition to this question feels disingenuous, Welfare to Work. A big chunk of the population that would be able to access health care through this expansion are working poor. A more accurate conservative name might be:  Welfare for people who are most likely working but earning crap wages on the losing side of an evolving economy.

I don’t get how denying working people access to health care is the right thing to do.

It feels like the working poor are being punished for economic circumstances beyond their control — circumstances like decades of stagnating wages, skyrocketing health care costs, and shrinking benefit packages. I thought conservatives liked to reward people for working?!

Nice reward … don’t have that lumped checked while it’s still minor and easy to take care of.

And speaking of the website, how about a side of context to go with those soundbites?

Like that bit about the rate of uninsured Mainers staying the same in spite of an expansion in 2002. I could flip that statistical coin right over and say:  In spite of bleeding manufacturing/large employer jobs and weathering the worst economic situation since the Great Depression, the rate of uninsured Mainers was able to remain stable because of the 2002 expansion.

Potato, potahto.

I do have to give you some credit when it comes to that bit about hospital executive salaries being excessive. Can’t say you’re wrong there considering those folks are running Maine nonprofits that are heavily reliant on federal funds.

But how does denying our neighbors health care solve that problem? Seems to me the best way would be some kind of regulation written into the requirements for maintaining state certification.

Some mother dying before her time because she ignored a lump in her breast that she couldn’t afford to tend to back when the kids were little will not cap hospital executive salaries.

Speaking of mothers, I’ve been hugging a lot of them lately, and I’m not the hugsiest person in the world. Grandmothers, too. You’d have to be a monster not to hug people at their wits ends dealing with loved ones’ addictions. Or worse, people longing for the days at wits end because those days were preferable to the ones now spent grieving the loss of a child.

I can’t imagine not hoping this expansion might help one mother avoid that worst possible outcome.

To that end, it bothered me to hear the spokesperson for the Welfare to Work PAC talking about the possibility that the expansion would worsen our addiction epidemic. The spokesperson cited a Wall Street Journal article that referred to states that had currently expanded under the ACA and were seeing increased overdoses and ER visits.

I’m too broke right now to foot the buck to read the article — and even if I had an extra dollar, I highly doubt the Wall Street Journal would top the list of possible recipients. So I have no way of knowing if the states discussed are states with limits on prescribing practices for opioids or if they have a statewide database collecting individuals’ prescription information.

We do have these things in Maine because we already learned the hard way what happens when doctors prescribe opiates unchecked. The spokesperson didn’t need to cite WSJ because local media outlets including the Bangor Daily News have been writing about this issue for a few years now, myself included.

The kicker is, decreased access to prescription opiates has been linked to increased heroin use — again with that context, subtly, nuance thing.

It’s a complex mess no soundbite can cover:  We have this addiction epidemic driven in no small part by health care professionals and pharmaceutical companies. Those same health care professionals and pharmaceutical companies are also on the front line of fighting the epidemic they helped to start.

Is that a mess in need of thoughtful input from conservatives? You bet, but the solution isn’t to punish the poor people caught in the middle — people who are in need of treatment because of trusting previous treatment. Talk about misplaced frustration.

Denying people health care access under the umbrella of these circumstances is — again — targeting the wrong people.

Our neighbors, relatives and friends living around the poverty line aren’t the ones to blame for any of the concerns raised in opposition to Question 2 nor should their health be compromised in the name of ideology. Please reconsider your position.

Best wishes,


P.S. I hope we’re all in agreement about showing Shawn Scott the shortest distance to the Kittery Bridge by voting against Question 1. I heard him on the radio, and as committed as Scott professes to be to Maine, you’d think he’d know we call it the turnpike, not the beltway. Ayunh.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.