The Two Massachusettses (Massachusetti?)

Well, they did it. Maine will take away state-sponsored health insurance from around 20,000 people. It would be ironic, if it wasn’t just mean, that these are people who disproportionately live in the very same places this legislature abandoned to higher private health insurance premiums in last year’s LD 1333 – the new Maine health insurance law which allows insurance companies to charge people different amounts depending on where they live. With those 20,000 people off the rolls, and presuming those people don’t get alternate health insurance – because let’s face it, they’re unlikely to – Maine’s percentage of uninsured people will climb to 16.5% as a result of this action alone.

It made me wonder about Massachusetts. I was charmed by this little love note to Massachusetts on Slate.com and it got me thinking about how Massachusetts manages to be so darned awesome in the health insurance department.  98% of people in Massachusetts have health insurance! Maine and Massachusetts share a common history – we were part of their state for the first thirty years of our nation’s existence — and many other features as well. Like Maine, Massachusetts has a more urban side and a more rural side. There is a substantial income disparity between western and eastern Massachusetts. There is even a conservative/liberal divide, though it is not as strong as the one in Maine. Nonetheless, for the sake of argument let’s call them the Two Massachussettses.

The interesting thing with the Two Massachusettses, when viewed from the Maine perspective, is that wealth and political liberalism do not track together.

The map on the left tracks median income by Massachusetts county. Counties with median household income in the $40-49,000 range are red, median incomes in the $50-59,000 range are orange, the $60-$69,000 range are yellow and the $70-79,000 range are green. The map on the right, taken from Dave Leip’s Atlas of US Presidential Elections site, is of the 2010 Massachusetts gubernatorial vote. On Leip’s site the standard colors are inverted: red stands for Democratic majorities and blue for Republican majorities. (I know! Confusing, but probably helpful in the long run to occasionally mix it up like that.)

A dynamic in which the relatively less-wealthy parts of the state support Democratic programs like equitable access to health care and the more-wealthy parts of the state are less supportive of those programs is quite different from what we see here in Maine. You can see the clear role played by the relationship between partisanship and relative wealth in the unambivalent way that Maine state Republican leaders are defending the MaineCare cuts. It is very difficult to argue that the provision of a fairly minimalist health care benefit is “irresponsible and unaffordable” as Senate President Kevin Raye did if you’re not coming from a place of limited means yourself. If this kind of message were accompanied by images of a wealthy Raye, say in a yacht off Nantucket, those words would sound very different. Similarly, Governor LePage’s ferocious arguments against anything he labels welfare require frequent reference to his impoverished childhood to be at all palatable.

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