Poll of Maine swing districts shows big support for Medicaid expansion

Gov. Paul Lepage, right, laughs as Paul Nickerson of Lewiston, a member of the Maine People's Alliance, crashes a press conference in Lewiston on Sept. 18. MPA has advocated for Maine to accept federal money to pay for expanding Medicaid. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham.

Gov. Paul Lepage, right, laughs as Paul Nickerson of Lewiston, a member of the Maine People’s Alliance, crashes a press conference in Lewiston on Sept. 18. MPA has advocated for Maine to accept federal money to pay for expanding Medicaid. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham.

A new poll by Maine People’s Resource Center — the polling arm of the liberal Maine People’s Alliance — indicates that a majority of Mainers in swing House districts support accepting federal dollars to expand Medicaid in Maine.

The expansion of publicly funded health care is a key provision of the Affordable Care Act of 2010, also known as Obamacare. Under the plan, Maine would receive federal dollars to expand Medicaid, known here as MaineCare, to 70,000 adults and children in the new year. The federal government would cover the cost of expansion for the first three years before winnowing down funding to 90 percent.

The ACA originally mandated Medicaid expansion, but the Supreme Court ruled states could opt out. Without expansion, some of those Mainers would fall into a loophole in Obamacare, leaving them ineligible for both Medicaid and subsidies on the new health care exchanges.

MPRC polled 434 likely Maine voters who live in state House districts that were determined by 150 or fewer votes. The results were weighted by gender and age to reflect Maine’s demographics, but the sample was not controlled for party or ideology. The margin of error is 4.27 percent at a 95 percent confidence interval.

Districts polled include 13 Democrat-held districts and nine Republican-held seats. They are Districts 5, 29, 30, 41, 44, 45, 51, 52, 54, 57, 70, 80, 93, 94, 96, 101, 109, 127, 128, 137, 144 and 145. Click through for district maps, and here to see the full poll results.

The poll found that 68.9 percent either “strongly support” or “somewhat support” expansion, while 24.6 percent somewhat or strongly oppose.

More than half (53.4 percent) of swing-district likely voters polled said they’d be less likely to support their own representative if he or she voted against Medicaid expansion.

Medicaid expansion is already set to be one of the most hotly contested issues to come before the Legislature in the upcoming second session. The schedule is short, and Democrats have no higher priority than expanding MaineCare. A bill to accept the federal funding passed with bipartisan support last session before being vetoed by the governor. In the end, Legislative Republicans stood with LePage, and the Legislature was unable to override his veto.

However, none of the Republican legislators from the above districts voted for Medicaid expansion the first time around, and none of the Democrats voted against it. So it’s unclear what, if any, effect this poll might have on their decision-making when they cast votes again this winter.

In a written statement, House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, had this to say: “The poll reflects what our representatives have been hearing from Maine people in their communities everyday. They are tired of the politics. They know accepting federal dollars to ensure more Mainers can afford to see a doctor is just common sense.”

I spoke with House Republican Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, who said the issue of Medicaid expansion would be decided on the merits, not by the results of a poll — even one that predicts election day woes for those who oppose expansion. He said that the botched start to the Affordable Care Act supported a “go-slow approach” on adopting any more provisions of that law, and cautioned against the state becoming more and more involved in health care.

“In the last session, it was Republicans in the House of Representatives that stopped Medicaid expansion in Maine, and I’m going to predict that we will stop it again in 2014, poll or no poll,” he said.

Here’s the polls other key findings:

  • Swing-district voters polled also said they trusted Democratic leaders in the Legislature more than LePage when it came to health care, 54.8 percent to 38.4 percent.
  • Respondents were asked whether they had any close friends or family members who do not have health insurance right now. 56.7 percent said they did, 38.5 percent said they did not and 4.8 percent were unsure.
  • Asked whether they had “put off” medical treatment in the past year because of out-of-pocket costs, more than four in 10 respondents said they had, while nearly 51 percent said they had not.
  • About half of respondents said they or a close friend had been covered by Medicaid at some point in their lives.
  • Asked whether LePage’s opposition would make them more or less likely to support Medicaid expansion, 38.1 percent said it would make them more likely to support, 26.5 percent said it would make them less likely to support it and 35.4 percent said it would make no difference or they were unsure.
Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House.