One of the fastest-aging US states has rejected free care for seniors

An idea ahead of its time.
An idea ahead of its time.
Image: AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty
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Voters in Maine were presented with a ballot measure that would have provided disabled adults or people over the age of 65 with full-time, long-term care in their own homes, at no cost to individuals or their families. It was hailed by supporters as a visionary model for ensuring support for vulnerable people, one that could be rolled out in other states as the US elder population grows.

Alas, it’s a vision whose time has not yet come. Voters in Maine soundly defeated Question 1 at the polls on Tuesday (Nov. 6).

Maine is one of the fastest-aging states in the US. People aged 65 and older there are expected to outnumber those under 18 by 2020, a full 15 years before the US as a whole reaches that crucial threshold.

The vast majority of seniors prefer to age in their own homes. The availability and affordability of in-home care in Maine, however, is among the poorest in the nation. Without access to home care, family members typically shoulder the work—along with the financial cost of their own lost wages—to care for elderly relatives.

The measure on the ballot would have imposed an additional tax of 3.8% on wages and income for people earning more than $128,400 a year. The tax, which would have been split between workers and employers, was expected to bring in $310 million per year from the 60,000 Maine households earning enough to qualify.

The measure was more popular outside of Maine than in it. Backers raised more than $2 million, mostly from out-of-state donors.

All four candidates for the state’s governorship opposed the additional tax, as did the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the nursing home industry (people with access to quality home care are less likely to move into nursing home facilities). The latter’s opposition led to a protest last month by roughly a dozen seniors holding signs reading “We’re Old, Not Stupid” in front of the Augusta offices of the Maine Health Care Association, a lobby group representing the nursing home industry.