Maine Referendum Results May Mean New Debate Over Universal Health Care
A local, non-binding referendum in Portland, Maine, about whether the state should have universal, government-sponsored health coverage "could be the beginning of a new round in the nation's health care debate," the New York Times reports (Belluck, New York Times, 11/16). The ballot measure, which passed on a 52% to 48% vote, calls on the Portland City Council to send a resolution to the state Legislature in support of a universal health care system. In addition, the measure would require the Portland Health and Human Services Department to issue an annual report to the council about the benefits of a single-payer system (American Health Line, 11/7). According to the Times, the vote "indicates a reawakened interest in universal health care," despite the narrow victory margin. More significantly, the Times reports, the amount of money spent by the state's insurance industry to oppose the "purely advisory" referendum indicates "how seriously the health care industry is taking" attempts to move toward expanded health coverage. Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the state's largest insurer, contributed $382,000 to a group called Citizens for Sensible Health Care Choices to fund television commercials opposing the measure. Supporters of the measure spent about $25,000 on their campaign.
According to the Times, the Nov. 6 vote was the beginning of "more bruising battles," as the Maine Legislature is likely to address universal coverage next session. Gov. Angus King (I), prompted by a universal coverage bill that passed the state House and was "narrowly" defeated by the state Senate last year, agreed to create a board to study universal health care, which will submit a proposal to lawmakers in March. Elsewhere in the nation, "[d]ozens" of other states are making "incremental moves" to expand coverage, while groups in both Maryland and Oregon have already launched efforts to bring universal health coverage to those states. Noting that groups favoring expanded health coverage "faded into oblivion" after the 1994 defeat of the Clinton health plan, Diane Lardie, national director of Universal Health Care Action Network, said, "[T]hey're coming back again," adding that the Portland vote is "a harbinger of things to come" (Belluck, New York Times, 11/16).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.