There are few things in the world scarier than cancer. It’s a disease that quietly attacks people of all ages and backgrounds and uses the mechanisms of our own bodies to slowly destroy us from the inside out. One of the greatest weapons we have against the disease is early detection. Ninety percent of cancers are curable if they are caught through early screening.

Unfortunately, exactly this kind of care is currently being denied to the tens of thousands of Mainers who have lost or aren’t eligible for health care coverage because Gov. LePage and the Maine Legislature have failed to accept federal funding through the Affordable Care Act. More people and their families will suffer from more serious bouts of cancer as a result.

SMALL-BUSINESS OWNER AFFECTED

That’s not just an academic assessment. I’ve met some of those who are at the highest risk and have just been cut off. One of many examples is Elizabeth Throckmorton Kellett, a small-business owner who lives in Walpole and has already lost one kidney to the disease.

Right now she’s working to get her plant nursery and gift shop back up and running after the death of her husband. That task was made more difficult Jan. 1, when she lost her health care coverage. Now she can’t afford to visit the doctor and is forced to go without the regular screenings and tests she needs.

I expected the circumstances of people like Kellett to be part of the debate in the Maine Senate on Thursday, as lawmakers considered a bill to accept the federal funds. Republican Sen. Rodney Whittemore surprised me, however, by focusing on a different kind of cancer: the rhetorical kind.

“To expand Medicaid under the federal rules would inflict a malignant cancer of dependency on thousands of Mainers who could otherwise provide for themselves under the exchange or private insurance,” said Whittemore.

“In too many cases this dependency erodes self-esteem, discourages responsibility and motivation, creates a feeling of entitlement and is a road to hopelessness.”

That’s right: Whittemore voted against accepting the funding because he’s worried that giving struggling Mainers access to health coverage will infect them with a “cancer” that will make them lazy and dependent. Apparently, according to Whittemore, the threat from his metaphorical cancer should trump the real threat Mainers face from the actual disease.

For the record, the people the senator is talking about live right on the poverty line and are already working, many of them at hard jobs for low wages. To say they require a fear of injury, illness or medical bankruptcy in order to give them “motivation” is baseless and downright callous.

CRITICISM POLITICALLY BASED

It’s no more unsound, however, than the other arguments trotted out by Republicans on this issue. In fact, it makes a lot more sense to admit that you want to deny people health care because you think it will make them lazy than it does to try to claim that pumping $1.05 billion of federal money into the state somehow won’t actually help the economy.

Or, as some Republicans are now attempting, to claim that allowing people access to health care coverage won’t actually benefit their health.

The hard-core Republicans who have taken a stand against expanding coverage are making these kinds of tortured claims because that’s the only ground they have to stand on. Their position is purely political, and it’s the latest signal of the degree to which the Maine Republican Party has been captured by the tea party fringe.

RESISTANCE TO COMPROMISE

Expansion legislation has been championed by Republican governors and legislatures in other states, and the bill being voted on right now in Maine is a compromise measure written and sponsored by Republicans.

It meets all of the Republican Party’s stated concerns and even includes a handout to the insurance companies through the inclusion of a managed care provision (something Republicans usually love), but it has found little traction within the wider caucus.

If Republican lawmakers continue to stand with Gov. LePage, his veto will be enough to overrule the bipartisan majorities in favor of the bill and doom the health care expansion.

Cancer isn’t a metaphor, nor is it political. It’s cancer. It doesn’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat, rich or poor. It has struck my family, and it has probably hit yours.

We have a chance to save people with no other options from more of that kind of suffering. Let’s not let rhetoric and a skewed, hard-hearted view of the working class prevent that from happening.

Mike Tipping is a political junkie who works for the Maine People’s Alliance. He can be contacted at:

writebacktomike@gmail.com

Twitter: @miketipping