Today’s issue of the Maine Beacon discusses the launch of the universal healthcare ballot initiative:

“With many Mainers going without health insurance and an unemployment crisis throwing even more off their plans during a pandemic, a health care advocacy group is launching an effort to gather signatures for a 2022 ballot initiative directing the legislature to establish a universal, publicly-funded health care system that will cover everyone in the state.

The initiative is being put forward by Maine Healthcare Action, a campaign launched by the organization Maine AllCare. A summary of the ballot measure says it would direct state lawmakers to “develop legislation to establish a system of universal health care coverage in the State,” calling for “the joint standing committee to report out a bill to the Legislature to implement, by 2024, its proposal.”

Why is a universal healthcare system in Maine important?

…Ryder said having a universal health care system in Maine is important because it doesn’t appear that the federal government will pass such a system anytime soon. With a divided Congress and a president-elect who has stopped short of advocating for universal health care, Ryder said now is the time to take action in Maine.

“People are dying and they’re suffering. Sixty percent of all bankruptcies are due to medical bills,” Ryder said, adding that the continued coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the need for a universal health care system.

…Ryder acknowledged that the initiative will likely draw significant opposition from the health insurance industry, particularly if the group gathers the necessary signatures.

However, she said since Maine Health Care Action is not pushing a specific bill, but rather a resolve directing the legislature to craft a measure, it will be more difficult for the industry to launch a campaign attacking more than the general concept of universal health care.

In 2001, a similar, non-binding referendum supporting the idea of state-level universal health care was placed on the ballot in Portland, Maine’s largest city. It attracted hundreds of thousands of dollars in opposition spending from insurance companies and passed with 52 percent of the vote.

How would universal health care work in Maine? 

Ryder also pointed to a 2019 study done by the Maine Center for Economic Policy (MECEP) that examined how a hypothetical universal health care system would work in the state as a document that will be helpful in countering claims by opponents.

James Myall, an economic policy analyst at MECEP — which has not endorsed any specific single-payer health care proposal — and the author of that report, said universal health care is a feasible undertaking at the state level.

“I don’t think it’s the case that it’s impossible for states to do this, at least from an economic standpoint,” he said. “It’s just whether that’s where people want to spend their financial resources and their political capital.”

The MECEP report found that about 652,000 people, including 74,000 people who are uninsured, would receive health coverage under the hypothetical state universal health care system the group devised.

Myall said while such a program would require raising taxes, most people would likely save money overall because they would receive virtually free care and wouldn’t be paying premiums to insurance companies.

He added that such a program would have the additional benefit of unburdening businesses of the cost of providing health insurance to their employees and would also prevent large numbers of people from losing health insurance when there is an economic crisis by decoupling health care from employment.

“I think the COVID situation has really demonstrated to a lot of folks, some of them painfully firsthand, the deficiencies of tying health care to employment,” Myall said.

Polls reveal strong support for publicly-funded healthcare

Recent polling shows that many Mainers are also questioning the wisdom of privatized health insurance.

Beacon photo: Maine activists rally for universal health care in Lewiston in 2017.

In an exit poll conducted during the presidential primary in March, 69 percent of voters in Mainers said they support a government plan that covers everyone over a private insurance system.

A less-scientific 2019 survey conducted by volunteers for Maine AllCare that featured respondents from all 16 counties found that 81 percent of those surveyed said they would support “a publicly funded healthcare system that covered everyone in Maine” if the federal government doesn’t pass a universal health care system.

Ryder added that five municipalities — Bangor, Blue Hill, Penobscot, Brunswick and Orono — have passed resolutions in 2020 encouraging the legislature to implement universal health care in Maine…”

Read the full Beacon article HERE.

Evan Popp studied journalism at Ithaca College and interned at the Progressive magazine, ThinkProgress and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. He then worked for the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper before joining Beacon.