Gubernatorial Candidates Paul LePage, Janet Mills Talk Health Care, Inflation and More

Posted on 09/28/22 by Natalie Missakian

When Maine voters pick a governor Nov. 8, they’ll choose between two familiar faces: first-term Gov. Janet Mills (D) and former Gov. Paul LePage (R), who was in office from 2011 to 2019. Mills was Maine’s attorney general before being elected in 2018. AARP talked with the candidates about issues important to older voters. Interviews have been edited for clarity and length.

MILLS: I’m very concerned about the rising cost of oil. ... So my administration has focused a great deal on climate action in the last few years. And we made it a goal to install 100,000 heat pumps in the first five years or so. ... I’ve focused on alternative energy sources, on weatherization and on requests [for more money] to protect low-income individuals, including seniors. This year, we provided one of the most robust relief packages of any governor in the country, and that was $850 relief checks for as many as 850,000 people in Maine. And we didn’t tell people what to do with those checks. They can save them for the oil bill, they can use them for groceries or gas for the car. It’s up to them.

LePAGE: I would start by suspending the recycling tax on [packaged] food that this governor has put in place until we get our inflation to 2 percent. That would give us time to really evaluate whether it’s going to be effective. At least two taxes and fees that have been put on hit the grocery store. I would make sure those are suspended. ... During the months of November to April, I would suspend the tax on diesel and the tax on gasoline and ... take the tolls off all trucks that are bringing in food. … I would take any surplus monies and make sure that heating oil is subsidized to people in the state of Maine.

LePAGE: First of all, I would fund long-term care and nursing homes to the fullest. ... [I’d] rehire the thousands of nurses and first responders that were fired because they wouldn’t take the jab. ... I would provide training so that we can get more people into the system. Right now, we’re firing people and we’re hiring people from out of state at enormous rates, and it’s just not working. Instead of expanding Medicaid, I would have paid the balance of the premium on Obamacare. Two things would have happened: Hospitals and nursing homes would get better reimbursements, and there would be no work restrictions.

MILLS: We’ve cut the nursing workforce shortage in half in recent months by expanding training opportunities in the Maine community college and university system. In this recent budget, working across the aisle, we provided two free years of tuition to all recent high school grads. And that is emphasizing not just the traditional trades but also health care and early childhood education. [The health care worker shortage] was highlighted in magazines and newspapers for a number of years before I took over in 2019. We’re finally addressing it.

MILLS: We provided $2,000 respite grants to family caregivers [of people living with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia]. I recently visited an Alzheimer’s respite care facility in Gardiner. It was very, very moving. And we want to expand those kinds of facilities and programs. … I am generally in favor of paid [family medical] leave, but you have to run the numbers. We funded a commission in the most recent budget to do an actuarial study and to look at how it’s done in other states. I’m eager to look at the results in those states to see if it’s doable in a smaller state like Maine.

LePAGE: I took care of my mother and my father. I took care of my mother-in-law, my father-in-law. It’s not the government’s role, it’s the family’s role. ... It’s not a burden when you’re taking care of a loved one. At least I don’t think so. I’m not a big fan of paid family leave because it’s totally abused. I think there’s a better way to do it. The best way to do it is you get a robust economy. You make sure people make a lot of money and they can afford to take care of their loved ones.

MILLS: We released a plan a year and a half ago, with an updated report this year, addressing how we can make more progress in allowing seniors to have access to benefits and facilities within their own communities. And that includes having health care readily available. That includes having broadband and adequate housing and access to outdoor spaces. Seemingly simple things like putting ramps in at Scarborough Beach and Crescent State Park and places like that, and Popham Beach—putting accessibility mechanisms in place so that people can have access to the outdoors and access to the amenities that we offer here in Maine. And even the federal infrastructure bill, which we are implementing, includes community-friendly measures, building more sidewalks and bicycle paths and avenues for active transportation so that people can stay safely in their communities. … I signed an executive order creating the Cabinet on Aging to do exactly that—to look at age-friendly communities, to minimize the need for hospitalization and nursing home care and allow for the maximum availability of community services to people who want to age in place. And I base that on my own experiences with my parents and my husband, knowing that that need is urgent and important.

LePAGE: A big issue is the death tax. Maine’s the oldest state in the union, and we have the highest percentage of people on fixed income. And what happens is some of our more affluent people leave the state for six months and a day and go to other nontaxable states. And the one tax that really concerns me is the death tax, or the estate tax. People who earned a good living and became wealthy or affluent in their later years want to protect their assets to give to their families once they pass. They do not want to give it to government. And so that’s one thing that I’ve been fighting for my whole time in government to get rid of. … I really believe it’s a tax that hurts all Mainers. Not only do we lose the capital of these people moving to other states and their assets go with them, but it’s a brain drain to our state. And then shortly after they’re gone—usually within a year or two—their families start moving closer to their grandparents and their parents. And so it’s a drain on not only our elderly, our affluent people, but it hurts our population of up-and-coming affluent people. And so that’s a real concern that I have for retiring people. 

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This story is provided by AARP Maine. Visit the AARP Maine page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.

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