Medicaid expansion proponents rally outside the State House prior to former Gov. Paul LePage's State of the State address on Feb. 13, 2018, in Augusta. Credit: Robert f. Bukaty / AP

AUGUSTA, Maine — Mainers will not vote on universal health care after a group of advocates said they would fall short of their signature goal by an early-June deadline.

The effort to put the top progressive cause on the Maine ballot began in 2020 and would have been the highest-profile vote on health care in the state at least since Medicaid expansion was approved by voters in 2017. The measure would have directed the Legislature to convene a task force to come up with a plan to cover all Maine residents by 2024.

The drive first missed a January deadline to collect the roughly 63,000 signatures needed to put the issue on the November 2022 ballot. The 2023 ballot was still a possibility, but the group’s existing petitions only remained active by law until this June, leaving a tight deadline that organizers said Tuesday that they would have been unable to meet.

“We are disappointed to have to end our campaign at this point in time, but we remain steadfast in our individual and collective commitment to make progress right here in Maine,” said Dr. Bill Clark, who chairs Maine Healthcare Action, the group that organized the effort.

Universal health care has been a perennial subject of legislative efforts in Maine over the past three decades. The 2003 Dirigo Health program, seen as a pioneering step toward covering all Mainers, fell short of coverage goals due to high premiums and unpopular funding sources. A task force formed to study universal coverage in 2018 turned in only a tepid consensus report.

Democratic proponents of universal health care often cite the standing of the U.S. as the only industrialized nation without such a program. But state efforts to provide coverage for all have been fraught, with progressive Vermont abandoning a single-payer push in 2014.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...