Supporters of Medicaid expansion celebrate their victory, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017, in Portland, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

Last fall, our state came together to support health care for people like me who were struggling to afford it. During the campaign, I shared my story with my community and my state. For over 30 years, I have earned a modest living as a self-employed hair dresser. But for so many people in work like mine — hair dressers, retail and service workers, low-wage workers — health care is out of reach. I was so proud to speak up with other uninsured Mainers who spent weekend after weekend talking to voters at their doors, at their churches, in their union halls and at state fairs to make sure Medicaid expansion passed at the ballot.

Maine made history with the first ballot question to expand Medicaid. We made a clear statement that was heard across the country: We want more health care, not less. We want politicians to stop trying to dismantle access to quality, affordable health care.

But one man refused to hear the voices of Maine voters, and has been purposefully undermining us ever since by refusing to roll out the health care law voters passed. On Nov. 8, instead of beginning to put the new law in place, Gov. Paul LePage began to talk about the conditions he would place on doing the job voters had laid out for him in the law. He has since done as little as possible, violating the law and allowing the state to be dragged into court to ensure Maine gets the federal funds we need to pay for health care for more than 70,000 Mainers.

[What to expect in the next round of court arguments on Medicaid expansion]

After years of living without insurance, I am lucky to now have health care. But for my friends and neighbors — who should by law already be covered — the application process has been upsetting and discouraging. They know they have to keep jumping through LePage’s hoops — an unclear application process, appeal after appeal, confusing letters in the mail — but they don’t know if or when they’ll finally get health care.

These extra hoops are the direct result of the delays LePage has forced on the state. They are unfair, unnecessary, and hurt our economy and my friends who just want to be able to see their doctor, afford a lab test or pay for medications.

It hurts to know that there are Mainers all over the state who are worried about whether these months they’ve gone without care are going to mean a missed diagnosis, a painful permanent condition or even death.

When we came together to support health care last fall, we made two important bets: that health care would improve the lives of Mainers who couldn’t otherwise afford it, and that helping these folks would also benefit our whole state.

I’m proof that those bets will pay off. Now that I am covered, I am freed from the stress and anxiety I had when I couldn’t pay for my oxygen to treat my COPD and had trouble breathing. All I needed was health care to continue to work, to be there for my grandkids and to have a better quality of life. I still have a lot to give to my community and I love my work.

Access to health care has changed my life, and with it a small corner of my community. But I can’t rest knowing that my friends and thousands of others are one accident away from being trapped in medical debt, one missed diagnosis away from serious illness.

What LePage has done to stop people from getting health care, even though voters passed a law, is scary. It’s awful to see politicians abuse power, and it can even make us worry about the value of our vote. But knowing the difference health care has made for me, my grandchildren and my community, I just know I’m never going to lie down and give in to LePage’s tactics. I’m going to carry Maine’s spirit of community and kindness with me to the ballot box again this November and vote for candidates up and down the ticket who will put the will of voters into effect. I welcome all Mainers who support more access to health care, not less, to join me.

Kathy Stewart is a hair dresser who lives in Winslow. She was a member of the Mainers for Health Care leadership team that helped pass Medicaid expansion in 2017.

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