Rebecca Gorfin of Surry was in the middle of chemotherapy treatments for skin cancer when Republican Gov. Paul LePage vetoed the acceptance of federal health care funding to expand MaineCare eligibility, canceling her health care coverage.

Gorfin tried to get subsidized coverage through the federal health care exchanges, but found that she, like thousands of other low-income Mainers, fell into the coverage gap caused by LePage’s refusal of federal funds – denied both MaineCare and the ability to access subsidized insurance.

“I tried to apply for Obamacare at that point, but it was too late because I hadn’t been working because I had been on chemo,” Gorfin said.

A CHALLENGE TO LEPAGE

She had a similar result when she tried to access free care through a local hospital.

“The poor guy at free care said, ‘I really didn’t want to get off the phone with you saying I’m sorry, but there’s nothing we can do,’ but he had to end the call with ‘I’m sorry, but there’s nothing we can do.’ ”

Gorfin worked desperately to scrape together $42.50 three times a week for packs of chemo drugs, something she managed to do only with the help of her friends and family. The cost of medication, doctors’ visits and biopsies meant that she was quickly racking up a massive debt.

Then, on top of everything else, her house caught on fire.

“I’m really building up some good karma here,” Gorfin explained, with a dose of dark humor.

This week, Gorfin turned on the TV during a gubernatorial debate and heard something remarkable. Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud seemed to be speaking about her and her situation.

“Someone watching us right now is going without life-saving medication because of your five vetoes of the expansion under the Affordable Care Act,” Michaud said, using his single question during the debate to bring up the issue with LePage. “Governor, would you be able to look in the camera and tell that person why they were too costly for care?”

LePage, instead of acknowledging the impact of his policies, defended his health care vetoes by claiming that “at no time is there a person in the state of Maine today that needs to go without medication.”

Gorfin says her exact reaction to the governor’s remarks likely can’t be printed in a family newspaper.

NO OPTIONS FOR THE UNINSURED

She wasn’t the only one aghast at LePage’s statement, perhaps the most callous untruth of his campaign. Social media lit up with anger, especially from Mainers who are struggling, or have loved ones struggling, to pay for medication. They began calling his office to hear his health care plan, as he had suggested during the debate.

Unsurprisingly, LePage’s staff didn’t have any answers for those falling into the coverage gap. They even told some callers to try to sign up for General Assistance – a rather cynical move given LePage’s cuts to that program.

“I can barely breathe today, because I was denied access to care for a treatable pulmonary condition,” Nicole Storm of Brunswick, who was refused MaineCare coverage with LePage’s vetoes and called his office looking for help, wrote on Facebook. “If it’s the last thing I do in this life – and it very well could be – it will be to vote against (LePage).”

There’s a lot of talk about polls, debates and TV ads during a political campaign, but what this election is really about is people like these. Real people may suffer and some may die based on the divergent policies of the candidates for governor. One estimate from researchers at Harvard and the City University of New York is that 157 Mainers will lose their lives this year because of a lack of care due to the failure to expand health care coverage.

MICHAUD BEST BET FOR CHANGE

The best chance to save lives and end suffering in Maine lies with Rep. Michaud, who has pledged to reverse LePage’s decision and accept federal health care funding on the first day of his administration. Doing so would not only help people struggling to afford health care, but also would create thousands of jobs, mostly in good-paying health care careers, often in rural parts of the state.

Michaud has been a constant and forceful advocate for those who most need his voice. He is currently locked in a dead heat with Gov. LePage.

Progressive supporters of independent Eliot Cutler who plan to stay with him to the end (despite the polling showing him with no real chance of winning the election) often say that they are voting with their consciences. That is absolutely their right. My conscience, however, is with Rebecca and Nicole.

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

[email protected]

Twitter: @miketipping