No health insurance premiums. No doctor-visit co-pays. No uninsured workers in Maine. Sound like a pipe dream? Well, it is, for now. But if three former gubernatorial candidates meet their goal, Maine citizens could put into place the country’s first single-payer, universal health care plan — and possibly start a nationwide domino effect.
"We’ll be just like Canada!" the proponents claim, and for once, that could be a good thing. To that end, former Green party candidates Jonathan Carter and Pat LaMarche, along with last fall’s Democratic hopeful Chris Miller, are launching a statewide effort to gather 55,000 signatures that would get their referendum on the ballot in November 2008. At their Web site,www.healthcareme.com, volunteers can learn more, or donate their time and money to the cause.
Organizers cite the Maine Health Care Reform Commission’s 1995 blue-ribbon report as a model for their health care plan, but declined to offer further details, because the Secretary of State still needs to sign off on the referendum’s specific language. However, from that 1995 MHCRC plan, we can glean hints of what the ballot measure would include:
-No co-payments or deductibles for doctor visits, specialist care, or other medical services. Co-pays for some prescription drugs.
-Coverage including basic dental care.
-“Publicly funded, privately administered” health care.
-Tax increases to finance all incurred expenses.
There’s only one problem: at the time, the MHCRC also warned that “the implementation of this plan is economically, legally, and politically untenable on an individual state level.” We assume HealthcareME won’t swipe that aspect of the recommendation.
In fact, while LaMarche insists that most Mainers and the state businesses that employ them will actually save money, she also wants to talk about cost later. For now, she just wants to pass the referendum. “We can wait to tweak it after the fact,” she says, offering an argument that probably won’t court many pragmatists. “We can fix how to pay for it.”
Every controversial idea gets labeled untenable, Miller says. “Of course the authorities will declare it illegal, immoral, and fattening. That’s why we have to do it ourselves.”