PORTLAND – As a social worker who works every day with some of Maine’s most vulnerable citizens, I know firsthand the devastating impact Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed $220 million cuts to health care services would have. One day, I realized I could do something about it — something more than contact my legislators or write a letter. I realized I could start a petition that would help all the people who oppose these cuts have a voice.

So far, 8,325 people have signed this petition. That’s 21 an hour, 691 a day. And those numbers show no sign of slowing down.

Many of these people have added a few words about how these cuts are short-sighted and will cost Mainers more in the long run. Many have asked for compassion. Some, such as Paul Chapman Jr. of Dresden, have shared their own stories.

Chapman wrote:  “I have had a heart transplant and without the help from MaineCare, in essence I will be put to death, for I will not be able to afford the medications that keep me from rejecting my transplant.” 

Each year, 45,000 Americans die simply because they are uninsured. Make no mistake: These cuts will cause some of those deaths to happen here in Maine.

As DHHS testimony revealed, the shortfall these cuts are being called to address was caused by computer programming errors, miscalculations about federal funds and mismanagement — not fraud or overuse of services.

Many Mainers are frustrated that these cuts are being requested after $150 million in tax breaks were doled out this year and another $400 million were promised over the next two years, with half of these tax breaks going to the wealthiest 10 percent of Mainers.

Please take a moment to imagine your own life without health insurance. Imagine, too, that you do not have any money for doctors or medications.

Now imagine that you get cancer. Or that you have a stubborn case of pneumonia and need antibiotics. Imagine that you are suicidally depressed but can’t afford a counselor. Or that you have an addiction problem but can’t afford treatment.

How would your life be different from the one you have now? How would you survive?

I am heartened to be getting emails from legislators responding positively to this petition. I am heartened, too, that our representatives recognized the grave harm of the proposed $60 million in cuts to private nonmedical institutions for seniors and the disabled, and have now formally opposed that cut. Their vote on this, and other proposed cutbacks, matters.

It certainly matters to the 65,000 Mainers who would lose their MaineCare; and to successful substance abuse treatment centers like Mercy Recovery, which would have to close its doors, meaning 100 lost jobs; and to preschool children from disadvantaged families who stand to lose their chance to get a critical “Head Start” on education; and to disabled and mentally ill people who depend on case management to help them live independently.

And it matters to the 4,400 people who would lose their jobs as a result of these cuts. Our representatives’ choices will impact the quality of life in this state, for better or for worse.

These 8,325 signatures add up to 861 pages. I see these as 861 pages of compassionate citizen engagement, and it gives me hope.

The 8,325 Mainers who have taken the time to sign this petition are sending a strong message to our representatives: We want to live in a state where people take care of each other.

That this is a Maine value. That this is what we mean when we talk about the way life should be.

Jennifer Lunden, LCSW, LADC, CCS, is executive director of The Center for Creative Healing in Portland.