I wish I could say that I am greeting all aspects of the new year with eager anticipation, but I am not. The political situation, both in Maine and nationally, makes it impossible for me to feel anything but dread.
On the home front, Governor LePage has baldly stated that he intends to do what he can to abolish Maine’s income tax. On the face of it, this idea sounds great. Who doesn’t want to pay less in taxes? But if LePage even has moderate success with gutting the tax system, this means that towns will get less in revenue sharing, or “welfare for towns” as our governor bluntly puts it.
Well, Lepage’s concept of welfare for towns is a major source of income for many communities, including the one I live in. The money goes for schools; the library; garbage disposal—a huge expense; road maintenance; and other essential services. The money is not used frivolously. If revenue sharing is severely reduced, then two things can happen—property taxes will go up or services will be cut. In all likelihood, it will be a combination of the two. (According to the Portland Press Herald, “Property taxes represented 4.9 percent of personal income in 2014, compared to 2.6 percent for income taxes.”)
Winthrop is a pretty bare-bones town. There aren’t a lot of extras here. Over the past few years, as revenue sharing has declined, cuts have been made, but to have a functioning, healthy town, there are limits to what can be eliminated. I can’t help but worry what will happen to Winthrop if revenue sharing is drastically cut yet again.
Nationally, the Supreme Court will be deciding whether it is legal for individuals to receive federal health-care subsidies if their states do not have a state-run exchange. As CNN put it in a recent article, “The legal argument involves a provision in the health care law that says people who obtained coverage through state-run exchanges can get federal subsidies such as tax credits. But the law does not specifically say that those signing up on the separate federal exchange also are eligible.” It seems to Clif and me that the language was intended to make it clear that while the subsides are always available from the federal exchange, this federal benefit is still available if a person purchased his or her coverage from a state exchange. But no one can guess what the Supreme Court will decide.
The Supreme Court’s decision will directly affect Clif and me. He is planning on retiring soon, and we will need affordable health care. Clif could wait until he is sixty-five to retire, when he will qualify for Medicare. This is only a year and a half, and it wouldn’t be a big deal for him. However, I am only fifty-seven, and I won’t qualify for Medicare for another eight years. Because I am a homemaker, my insurance coverage comes from Clif’s policy at work.
Does Maine have a state-run exchange? Of course it doesn’t. It smacks of “welfare,” and LePage turned it down. If the Supreme Court rules against the subsidies, this means that health care will no longer be affordable for millions of people who live on a modest budget. People like me and Clif. When Clif was consulting, we bought our own health insurance, and we know first hand how unaffordable health care can be. Ten years ago, we paid almost $600 a month and that included a very high deductible. I can only imagine what it would be now, especially since I’ve had breast cancer.
Clif cannot work until he is seventy-two. Somehow we will scrape by if the Supreme Court rules against the subsidies. We will buy insurance for me. But if this is the case, then there sure won’t be anything golden about Clif’s retirement, and our already basic lives will be even more basic. No movies, no eating out, no anything extra.
The Obamacare scoffers might approve. Why should Clif and I have affordable health care that is subsidized by the government? First, I would like to remind the scoffers that in this country, all health care is subsidized by someone—businesses, private charity, hospitals, insurance companies, and, yes, the government. Good health care is neither free nor cheap, and unless we want to be a country that only provides health care to the affluent, then we have to wise up and accept the fact that the money must come from somewhere. And the larger the pool, the easier the burden.
I also want the scoffers to consider the practical effects of denying affordable health care to millions of people. Think of how this will trickle down to the rest of the economy, to the local businesses who depend on seniors and other folks who have a little extra to spend on nonessential items.
Town budgets slashed. Essential services cut. Affordable health care threatened. What a rosy future! Is it any wonder I feel a sense of dread?