Republican activists offer voters a vocabulary lesson

I heard on the radio that Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap changed the wording on a referendum question appearing on the ballot this fall. The question seeks to expand MaineCare access under the not repealed or replaced ACA, and a draft version had been available for public comment.

The draft version referred to MaineCare as insurance, which set some Republicans off. Among them former party chair Rick Bennett who said that MaineCare wasn’t insurance “under any definition.” So the question will refer to coverage instead.

When I got home, I had to whip out my trusty old dictionary. It felt good to rifle through the wrinkly, frayed pages. I’ve grown so accustomed to doing a Google search for quick definition checks, I forgot the feel of hundreds of pages slipping through my fingers or the way we used to play “word of the day” by flipping the dictionary open and pointing to random words when the kids were little.

But I digress when I should be calling Bennett & Co. out, although respectfully so.

The MaineCare program meets all three definitions of the word insurance in my dictionary. I wish I could say the year of its copyright, but that page along with the outer cover disappeared at least a decade ago.

My beloved dictionary. Photo by Trish Callahan

I seem to remember it being a Webster’s, though, and it offered three definitions:

1a. The act, business or system of insuring. b. The state of being insured. c. A means of being insured.  2.a. Coverage by a contract binding a party to indemnify another against specified loss in return for premiums paid. b. The sum or rate for which such a contract insures something. c. The periodic premium paid for this coverage. 3. A protective measure.

The primary beef the extreme right has with the word insurance seems to revolve around the word premium, as in MaineCare recipients don’t pay premiums on their healthcare access. I say that’s splitting hairs because there’s no reason we can’t refer to the payments made to states by the federal government bulk premium payments made on behalf of recipients.

If the government can call the farcical payments made to insurance companies to maintain private insurance policies people can’t afford to use subsidies, then we’ve got room to play linguistically when it comes defining the funding of Medicaid/MaineCare. Especially considering Medicaid/MaineCare allows actual access to health care for all recipients.

The whole thing reminds me of a grammar lesson I used to teach in adult ed English about subtle differences between words like assure, ensure, and insure. I’d try to cram all the words into a run-on sentence like:

I wish someone could assure me that our political leaders have a clue when it comes to insuring people or that they value the idea of ensuring all citizens have access to healthcare as a basic right.

Or how about:

I wish someone could assure me that political leaders understand the idea of long-term, full-time employers insuring mass numbers of employees for decades on end can no longer be ensured in this economy.

Or maybe:

I wish someone could assure me that political leaders understand economic inequality is a driving factor hindering citizens from insuring themselves on a private market currently ensuring that the rich get richer. 

My biggest beef with the far-right’s fight to stop MaineCare expansion, however, is the way they cite the rapidly rising costs of the program between 2002 (a prior expansion) and 2011 (when the LePage administration starting cutting access). I guess the bulk of the blame for rising health care costs rests with recipients.

It might seem logical to look to the delivery side of the equation to address those rising costs, but Republicans only focus on cutting the receiving end.

Further, it’s pretty commonly held that a significant number of people who have struggled with addiction in the last couple decades became addicted while receiving medical care and/or otherwise accessing prescription medications flooding the streets at the time. Republicans never acknowledge that this factor when referring to those rising costs they love to cite.

Addictions are expensive to develop when licensed professionals are billing for their development.

Nor do Republicans like to discuss what happened to some of those addicts after 2011 when the LePage administration started cutting the MaineCare program. Addiction treatment centers closed citing the cuts  and people started to die in big numbers, over 1000 between 2013 and 2016.

A vocabulary lesson about the word insurance wasn’t enough for these Republican activists, either. I came across a picture of them holding a recent press conference about the wording of the question. They had a sign, half of which read “Medicaid is welfare,” and I thought to myself — again, with all due respect — duh.

As in:

Expanding Medicaid/MaineCare access will positively impact the welfare of all Maine citizens by infusing funds needed to bolster our health care infrastructure to address our public health epidemic, caused in no small part by the aforementioned health care infrastructure itself.

And don’t get me started on their take on the definition of poverty …

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.