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March 14, 2014 by Alison Mann

Health Care is a Human Right: Beyond MaineCare Expansion

Health Care is a Human Right: Beyond MaineCare Expansion:

A response to the Portland Press Herald Article “Medicaid Expansion vote has real-life impact for low-income Mainers”. 

Yesterday I was interviewed by the Portland Press Herald about the issue of MaineCare expansion— the critical health care legislation that the Maine Senate voted in favor of yesterday, the House is likely to pass next Tuesday, and the Governor is sure to veto soon after. The bill would allow the state to accept federal funding to cover 70,000 currently uninsured adults. I have been working with the Southern Maine Workers’ Center to urge the state to expand MaineCare and give more Mainers access to their human right to health care.

The Southern Maine Workers’ Center has been a part of the MaineCare campaign in the context of the statewide Health Care is a Human Right Coalition. We are organizing workers and working class people in Maine for social justice from the grassroots. We believe that the solution to health care crisis doesn’t lie in the expansion of private health insurance (through the ACA), managed care, or even the expansion of MaineCare. Passing MaineCare expansion is just a first step toward a system that will truly cover all of us.

The stated promise of the Affordable Care Act is that every citizen of the United States will be able to access affordable health care. Those with the lowest incomes — up to 138% of the federal poverty line — are supposed to be covered by an expansion of Medicare, which would be funded by the federal government for the first three years. Yet, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states had the right to opt out of Medicare expansion, many republican governors decided to play politics with low-income people’s lives — putting an ideological debate about the role of government above the lives that can be saved and improved by access to health care. In our state this means that even with a managed care compromise that will privatize MaineCare — a compromise many of us fighting for universal health care are unhappy with– not enough republicans in the Senate voted in favor of the expansion to override the impending veto by Governor LePage.

For me and others at the Southern Maine Workers’ Center, it’s time to focus on making real change in our health care system. When I was interviewed yesterday I was asked if I would consider moving to a state that had passed Medicaid expansion, in order to gain coverage. I said no, I’d rather stay in Maine–the place where I grew up–and organize for something better. Rather than move to Vermont for the universal health care system that will take effect there in a few years, I want to recreate that victory here.

The only way to make sure the everyone in Maine gets the health care they need is to recognize that we have a human right to health care: that health care is not a commodity but a public good. It is shameful that we are still debating the issue of MaineCare expansion, and that our governor puts politics over the lives of low-income people in Maine. What we need to start doing now is get organized to demand the real solution from our next Governor– a universal, publicly funded health care system.

Drew Joy is on the board of the Southern Maine Workers Center and is a member of the SMWC Health Care is a Human Right Committee.