There were some big winners on Election Night. One of them was Donna Wall.

She’s a full-time caregiver for her three adult children with disabilities, and earns about $7,000 a year from a paper route. But despite her below-the-poverty-line income, she has been without health insurance since her twin sons hit their 18th birthdays: That’s when, in the eyes of the state, she became an “able-bodied, childless adult” who was no longer eligible for help under the Medicaid program.

But that’s going to change. Maine voters in all 16 counties voted that Wall and an estimated 70,000 other Maine people, mostly low-income workers like her, should be able to see a doctor and pay for medicine if they need it. Mainers said loud and clear that they don’t want to see their neighbors suffer anymore.

With the vote, Maine joined the 31 states that have already expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, but no state has taken a tougher road to get there. Bipartisan majorities in both houses of the Legislature have passed Medicaid expansion bills five times since 2013. Each time, the bills have been vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage, and a group of Republicans in the House has stuck with the governor, giving him enough votes to slam the door on expansion every time.

After citizens gathered the signatures necessary to put the issue on the ballot, LePage kept fighting. He campaigned against the referendum, and helped raise more than $200,000 for the Welfare to Work political action committee, trying to scare people into voting “no,” saying it would take resources away from the elderly or make hunting and fishing licenses more expensive.

He didn’t give up when the referendum passed this week with 59 percent of the vote, claiming in a statement that he would not implement the law unless the Legislature meets his demands about how to cover the cost. The governor is sure to keep blustering, but, one thing should be clear: LePage has lost his four-year fight.


It’s time to think about the winners, like Wall, who is one of thousands who were cruelly locked out of the health care system by the LePage administration’s eligibility guidelines. She could not get coverage under Medicaid (known here as MaineCare), but because her income was below the poverty line, she earned too little to qualify for subsidies to buy private insurance in the ACA exchange.

Tuesday’s vote may also change things for the thousands of Mainers with deadly opioid addictions who cannot afford to pay for drug treatment. If they overdose, hospitals will do everything possible to save their lives for free — but they don’t supply long-term counseling or treatment with medication, the combination proven to be the most reliable way to fight addiction. Treatment programs can’t expand to meet the need because there is no reliable funding stream, and some have even closed their doors.

Mainers are still dying at a rate of one per day from opioid overdoses. Addiction experts say expanding Medicaid is the most important step Maine could take to stem the death toll. Tuesday’s vote will give hope to families that have had little to be hopeful about.

And count many rural Mainers among the winners, whether they are going to get health coverage through MaineCare or not.

Rural hospitals have been cash-starved, and have had to lay off staff and cut services to make ends meet. Expanding MaineCare will mean that fewer people will be going to hospitals for charity care, keeping the hospitals’ books in balance and lowering costs for people with private insurance. Since hospitals are often the biggest employers in their host towns, when they do well, it’s reflected in the local economy.

Tuesday’s vote promised good news to people all over Maine. Legislators should not stand in their way any longer.

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