Maine has a higher-than-average number of small businesses and one in seven Mainers is self-employed. More than half of Mainers are self-employed as farmers, loggers, fishermen, and many other professions. Small business owners and the self-employed drive Maine’s economy. They also face the steepest barriers to affordable healthcare because many of these jobs tend to be low-wage, especially in rural areas. If Maine does not accept federal funds to expand health insurance, it will leave many small businesses and self-employed workers, like our fishermen and farmers, without health care.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) takes special care to help low-wage workers in small businesses. First, it increases the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit to make 50% of premiums deductible. Second, it opens up access to the ACA marketplace, where a family of four earning up to $88,000 a year can get tax credits to help them with paying monthly premiums. And third, because the federal government recognized that, even with tax credits, not all workers would have the means to buy insurance in the marketplace, it earmarked federal funds to pay for states to expand their Medicaid programs.
Nationally, small firms are the greatest creators of net new jobs, drive innovation, and generate half of the nonfarm, private sector GDP. Of particular relevance to Maine, small businesses generate two-thirds of rural jobs. The self-employed are equally as essential to the Maine economy―particularly to the agricultural and resource sector that is the backbone of our rural economies.
Rural small businesses tend to pay lower-than- average wages, and we know that the uninsured reside disproportionately in four rural counties: Aroostook, Washington, Waldo, and Hancock counties. For example, in Waldo County alone, 2,600 people would finally have health insurance if Maine accepts federal Medicaid funds. This increase in people able to afford healthcare would in turn support roughly 150 new jobs in Waldo. Accepting federal healthcare dollars would make a real, measurable difference for people living and working in these counties. It would help seasonal workers’ families, construction families, and farm families. It would protect Mainers from anxiety over financial burdens caused by uninsured health care costs.
Maine has always been forward thinking when it comes to ensuring that our state policies work to reflect our shared values and priorities. And we have overcome challenges, even in tough economic times, by working together for the common good. Three times, a bipartisan majority of our legislature has voted to accept federal funds and cover 69,500 uninsured Mainers with expanded Medicaid, only to fall to the governor’s veto pen. That pen once again stands between working Mainers and affordable healthcare. It’s time for legislators to override the governor and act in the best interest of Maine’s people and the state’s economy.
The governor’s policies have taken insurance away from Mainers ―including fishermen and farmers. With so many economic challenges facing Maine right now, it is hard to imagine why he would do anything to make times harder, and make the future less secure for hardworking Mainers.