What Maine seniors want and what candidates offer

Maine’s elderly women and men and their loved ones need help as they grapple with what so many of us have: figuring out how to provide care.

As my grandmother Sadie aged, she relied on her family and fellow citizens. Grandma Sadie worked hard while raising a family but never made a lot. She paid her taxes, put some money aside and contributed funds to social insurance programs.

When the time came, Social Security and Medicaid enabled her to live an old age with dignity and security.

As she became increasingly fragile and forgetful, her daughter was just steps away. And so my grandmother could stay in her home for nearly all of her time on earth.

That’s not possible for everyone. But as shown by a poll of 2,000 Mainers 50 and older, conducted by the AARP, what my grandmother got was what most older Mainers want.

Nearly 80 percent of those surveyed say it is “extremely or very important for them to remain in their homes as they age,” with another 14 percent saying this is “somewhat important.” Moreover, it didn’t make any difference what party one supported or if one didn’t identify with a political party. Democrats, Republicans and independents wanted to stay in their homes and communities.

Policy matters. Large numbers of these Mainers believe that “elected officials should support funding services that enable seniors to remain in their homes.” Seventy-three percent say it should be a top or high priority, and another 20 percent consider it a “medium” priority.

Just as my family helped my grandmother, others’ caretakers make such a difference. And not only had strong majorities of those surveyed been caretakers but over 60 percent saw government support for caretakers as a top or high policy priority.

Older voters will judge those asking for their votes. Nearly 70 percent say they are likely to vote for candidates who support “Mainers who provide unpaid care at home for an adult loved one who is elderly or disabled.” And 80 percent say they’d likely back candidates working on “ensuring older Mainers have access to affordable prescription drug coverage.”

What do Maine’s gubernatorial candidates offer?

Eliot Cutler’s book, “A State of Opportunity” has many references to Maine’s aging population, mostly on changing the age mix in our state. The book calls the high percentage of older people “Maine’s demographic disadvantage.”

The only reference I could find to older Mainers included them with other groups: “Whether they are old or young, employed or unemployed, whoever they are or wherever they live, all Mainers are entitled to essential health care.” Cutler has presented no agenda for Maine’s elderly.

What of Gov. Paul LePage? An issues section of his campaign website says little about older Mainers, although it does mention curtailing a tax charged on nursing home meals and changing the tax deduction for seniors receiving pensions. But not every problem can be solved by reducing taxes.

Lately, LePage has touted additional funding for nursing homes, which he allocated after threatening to veto a legislative solution that would have added to funds the Legislature had already added. This paper’s editorial page said the governor’s “behavior is puzzling at best, dishonest at worst.”

And what of helping older people stay in their homes and ensuring that they and their caretakers have health care?

LePage’s blocking of Medicaid expansion hurt older Mainers who need Medicaid before they become eligible for Medicare. It also hurt caretakers, who often split their time between a paid job and being there for an elderly parent or aunt and don’t get health insurance from an employer.

In contrast, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and Cutler support Medicaid expansion.

The Maine Legislature in 2013 restored the $1.75 million LePage wanted to cut from the “Drugs for the Elderly” program; limited property tax increases that would have resulted from the governor’s proposed budget; and funded Meals on Wheels at a higher level than the governor wanted. Legislators’ actions made it easier for seniors to stay in their homes.

Michaud’s Maine Made plan concentrates on economic development while supporting one of seniors’ top priorities, “aging in place.” Michaud also wants to fund the programs LePage tried to cut.

All the candidates will have more to say about Maine seniors — and seniors will be watching.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.