AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER)--The big issue on this November’s election ballot is likely to be Medicaid expansion, and some Republicans are already looking to influence the debate. A group of GOP legislators and former state party chairman Rick Bennett said Tuesday they want the question on the ballot to refer to Medicaid as “welfare” instead of calling it “health insurance”.
The referendum would expand Medicaid coverage to about 70-thousand Maine adults under age 65. Supporters say it would improve the health of those people and save money in the Maine health care system . Opponents, including many Republicans, argue the state government cannot afford the cost of expansion.
The Republicans at Tuesday's press conference, including Rep. Heather Sirocki of Scarborough, insist Medicaid is not insurance but another form of welfare, and say the ballot question needs to state that.
“I think referencing the word insurance is an issue because it is clearly not Insurance. it’s a welfare program. I think the voters need a clear understanding of what the proposal is,” said Sirocki.
But Robyn Merrill, one of the leaders of Health Care for Maine, the coalition backing the referendum, said it is clear Medicaid is a health insurance program. "It provides an insurance card and you go to the doctor and just like insurance it helps you pay for health care cost,” Merrill said. “It doesn’t go into peoples’ pockets, it goes to health care providers, health care centers, to hospitals.”
The ballot wording will be decided by Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, who is currently taking public comments on the two questions.
The Maine Legislature has passed Medicaid expansion five times but has never been able to muster enough votes to overcome the vetoes of Governor LePage.