Maine would be first to offer universal home care

Published 11-01-2018

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AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - More than 2 million dollars has poured into the campaign over a first-in-the-nation ballot proposal to provide universal home care in Maine.

Leaders of the campaign, funded by liberal out-of-state groups, want Maine to pioneer a new model other states could mimic by providing care, regardless of income.

Supporters say the need to help the elderly and individuals with disabilities stay in their homes amid rising health care costs and shortages of direct care workers is particularly pressing in Maine, which is largely rural and has the highest median age of any state, according to census data.

"My wife couldn't handle me if I had to be bathed and turned over and helped up and helped down," said Jerry Genesio, 80, a Marine veteran living in a Scarborough retirement community who has had difficulty walking since being forced to jump from a helicopter in the Philippines and fracturing bones. Neither he nor his wife, he said, want to end up in a nursing home.

Critics say the tax increase, despite its good intentions, would drive away businesses and workers in the aging state. They also say the issue is too complex to leave up to voters at the ballot box.

"Even if you like $310 million in new taxes, the program that the Maine People's Alliance has concocted is going to do more harm than good," said Newell Augur, chair of No On Question One.

The universal home care effort has reported spending $1.4 million on the campaign, which has received an endorsement from comedian and actor Seth Rogen, over $360,000 from Service Employees International Union and a $250,000 donation from eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.

Meanwhile, opponents including Maine's real estate industry, the state chamber of commerce, and health care groups have united to spend over $1 million to fight the referendum.

Many ads have hit Maine's airwaves, with little focus on the referendum's details and background, which include:

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INCOME TAX

The referendum asks voters to approve a 3.8 percent tax on wages and income above the federal payroll tax threshold for Social Security, $128,400 in 2018. Employers and employees would each pay 1.9 percent on income from wages.

That would rake in $310 million annually from about 60,000 households.

Business groups point out that as written, the tax penalizes married couples who make above $1

The universal home care effort has reported spending $1.4 million on the campaign, which has received an endorsement from comedian and actor Seth Rogen, over $360,000 from Service Employees International Union and a $250,000 donation from eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.

Meanwhile, opponents including Maine's real estate industry, the state chamber of commerce, and health care groups have united to spend over $1 million to fight the referendum.

Many ads have hit Maine's airwaves, with little focus on the referendum's details and background, which include:

___

INCOME TAX

The referendum asks voters to approve a 3.8 percent tax on wages and income above the federal payroll tax threshold for Social Security, $128,400 in 2018. Employers and employees would each pay 1.9 percent on income from wages.

That would rake in $310 million annually from about 60,000 households.

Business groups point out that as written, the tax penalizes married couples who make above $128,4000 together.

Mike Tipping, spokesman for Maine People's Alliance, which launched the referendum, says lawmakers can fix that unintended issue.

Critics say the referendum lacks income or residency tests. Tipping said providing home care regardless of income will keep individuals from having to spend down their assets or sell their home.

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NEW BOARD

A nine-person board would oversee providing in-home and community support services for all citizens with disabilities and the elderly.

An estimated 27,000 Mainers needing help with daily living could receive assistance, including stipends for family caregivers and funding for professional nursing, home health aides, home repair, rent subsidies and transportation. Providers would have to spend at least 77 percent of funds to pay workers.

"I take my medicatio

Many ads have hit Maine's airwaves, with little focus on the referendum's details and background, which include:

___

INCOME TAX

The referendum asks voters to approve a 3.8 percent tax on wages and income above the federal payroll tax threshold for Social Security, $128,400 in 2018. Employers and employees would each pay 1.9 percent on income from wages.

That would rake in $310 million annually from about 60,000 households.

Business groups point out that as written, the tax penalizes married couples who make above $128,4000 together.

Mike Tipping, spokesman for Maine People's Alliance, which launched the referendum, says lawmakers can fix that unintended issue.

Critics say the referendum lacks income or residency tests. Tipping said providing home care regardless of income will keep individuals from having to spend down their assets or sell their home.

___

NEW BOARD

A nine-person board would oversee providing in-home and community support services for all citizens with disabilities and the elderly.

An estimated 27,000 Mainers needing help with daily living could receive assistance, including stipends for family caregivers and funding for professional nursing, home health aides, home repair, rent subsidies and transportation. Providers would have to spend at least 77 percent of funds to pay workers.

"I take my medication myself and I messed up with it a few times," said Bud Buzzell, 76, a U.S. Army veteran living with post-traumatic stress disorder and sight and sound impairments in Portland. He is hoping for help with medication and retrieving his mail.

If demand is too high, the board could create waiting lists and restrict what services are offered. Individuals receiving home care and providers would elect the board, and labor unions could access potential voters' contact information.

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STATES GRAPPLING WITH HOME CARE

A few states including Maine are seeing efforts to support caregivers and keep people out of costly long-term facilities.

Hawaii provides up to $70 a day worth of services for caregivers who assist loved ones over age 60 and work 30 hours a week.

Washington is working with Medicaid to offer $550 a month in free services for unpaid caregivers and older adults who don't qualify for Medicaid. Washington has also been considering a law to increase payroll contributions to provide family caregivers with $100 a day for a year.

The future of Maine's referendum is unclear, with scant polling. Tipping expects it will be close, while Augur expects undecided voters will ultimately vote no.

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GUBERNATORIAL PUSHBACK

As his tenure winds down, term-limited Republican Gov. Paul LePage's administration is lambasting the referendum as one of Maine's largest-ever tax increases.

The referendum is also getting pushback from LePage's potential successors.

Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills has called for Maine to reject the referendum Tuesday and to follow Washington's example of seeking more federal Medicaid dollars for home care.

Republican businessman Shawn Moody said Maine should explore telehealth options for doctor's appointments, improve access to generic drugs and increase pay for direct-care workers.

Independent state treasurer Terry Hayes said the referendum has "too many flaws."

"I am confident that lawmakers can do better," Hayes said.

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