Because “health care is at the top of a group of issues that voters want 2018 midterm candidates to talk about,” according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll, we at the Portland chapter of Maine AllCare, a health policy educational and advocacy nonprofit, sent out a brief questionnaire to the 16 gubernatorial and Cumberland County’s 73 legislative candidates to determine where they stand.

Our goal was two-fold: to inform ourselves and the public of the candidates’ positions prior to the primaries, and to engender an ongoing conversation with our politicians on the topic. These were the questions, moving from the theoretical to the practical:

Question 1: Do you think all Maine residents should have lifelong, ready access to all needed health care?

 Question 2: If so, do you think the state government should be responsible for ensuring that they do?

 Question 3: Will you support a publicly funded system of privately provided care for all Maine citizens? If not, what sort of system do you support?

Following one reminder mailing, as of May 28 we had received nine responses from the gubernatorial candidates and 30 from the legislative candidates, for an overall response rate of 44 percent. Thirty-three respondents were Democrats, five were unenrolled and one represented the Green Party. No Republicans responded.

Admittedly, it is difficult to reduce to “yes” and “no” one’s position on an issue as complex as health care policy. Indeed, we sometimes found it difficult to categorize hedged or qualified responses, but to the best of our ability we determined that of the 39 who had replied, 37 answered “yes” to our first question, 31 “yes” to our second question and 31 “yes” to our third question.

For those interested, a spreadsheet of our results (including candidates’ comments), along with a chart summarizing results, will be posted on the Maine AllCare website (maineallcare.org).

To put these results into perspective, we also consulted the respective state party platforms. The Republican platform references “providing health care through free-market solutions” and working to “repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and all initiated components.” In addition, it states that “to maintain the safety net for Maine’s most vulnerable, we support comprehensive welfare reform which offers a pathway to self-sufficiency and prioritizes resources and services for the elderly and the disabled.”

The Democratic platform states that Democrats “will work actively to ensure that people in Maine have … universal access to high-quality and affordable health care,” and that they support “a health care system with protection for all Mainers against the significant economic consequences of illness and injury.” And the Greens call for “a state-funded single-payer health care system with comprehensive health care for all, including vision care, hearing care, mental health and dental health, regardless of ability to pay.”

Given the stark differences among the parties on health care, we were surprised and disappointed not to hear from a greater range of candidates. Perhaps our reference to “a publicly funded system” put off some of a conservative bent. Clearly, though, there are arguments to be made for addressing the many problems in our health care system (cost, waste and duplication, poor or nonexistent coverage, complexity for patient and provider alike, employer burden, etc.) through “market solutions” based on conservative principles. But unless these arguments are expressed, they can’t be considered and debated.

Whether or not the above results are helpful to voters, it is our hope that all the candidates who emerge from the primaries will speak out clearly about their position on health care so that in the fall, when the people of Maine step into the polling booths, they can take those positions into account.

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