How many people will die because on June 19 Maine's Legislature refused to accept federal Obamacare funds to extend Medicaid health insurance to as many as 70,000 low-income working people?
Answer: Interpolating from a 2009 Harvard Medical School study that estimated 45,000 Americans died each year from inadequate health care because of their lack of insurance (among 50 million uninsured), 63 Mainers will unnecessarily die annually. The Harvard study didn't calculate the pain and suffering endured due to lack of health insurance.
The day after the legislative action, the Maine People's Alliance noted in a statement: "For one woman who came to the Legislature yesterday to fight for her health care, [the decision] means she will no longer be able to afford her epilepsy medication that costs over $20,000 a year. For one MPA member who was there for the vote last night, it means she may no longer be able to afford her mortgage."
The refusal of the Affordable Care Act funds took place when, on the final day of the legislative session, House Republicans upheld Republican Governor Paul LePage's veto of LD 1066, which would have required the state to accept the money. The feds would have paid 100 percent of the costs of the people covered for the first three years, dropping gradually to 90 percent by 2020, although the legislation only committed Maine to three years.
Taking a minute from lobbying for the override, Jim Lysen, a health-care-clinic administrator from Lewiston, told of an acquaintance faced with the choice of paying for his medications or food for his family: "He committed suicide."
So, if the Harvard study is accurate, WHO WILL BE RESPONSIBLE for the avoidable deaths and suffering? The simple answer: Republicans. The override also failed because of a major strategic error on the part of Maine Democrats, and because Maine hospitals lacked enthusiasm for the Medicaid expansion, though they would have been key beneficiaries.
LePage refused to sign the bill because, he said in his veto message, he didn't trust the federal government to keep its commitments. Our businessman-governor also saw damage occurring to commercial health insurance. Previous expansions of Medicaid (also called MaineCare) had caused, he wrote, "thousands upon thousands of Mainers leaving the commercial market for 'free' health care, expanding the welfare rolls." And he saw "fraud and abuse" in Medicaid. (See "Barely Hanging On," by Jeff Inglis, November 18, 2011.)
Only five House Republicans didn't support LePage. Majority Democrats and the four independents were solidly in favor of accepting the funds.
But a two-thirds vote is required to override a veto. In the crucial ballot, the override was defeated by a two-vote margin (not counting a false "no" vote by a Democrat to allow a reconsideration). Because the House override failed, the question never went to the Senate, also controlled by Democrats. The vote there, too, was expected to be close.
House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, who led the charge that killed the override, was conciliatory afterwards, saying he wasn't philosophically opposed to having low-income people insured by the government, but it should be done "in a fiscally responsible way."