Public Forum on Universal Health Is Greeted with Interest
By Joe Lendvai
“Universal Health Care: How It Will Help Small Businesses and Everyone in Maine” was the subject of a Public Forum and Expert Panel discussion on Wednesday, October 10th at the Blue Hill Town Hall. The event was sponsored by Maine AllCare, a fledgeling nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of Maine people. Maine AllCare is dedicated to educating the public about bringing affordable, comprehensive health care to everyone in Maine. Alliance for Democracy, Occupy Blue Hill, and Peninsula Peace and Justice were co-sponsors.
The Panel members included: Dr. Phil Caper, internationally know health policy expert; Dr. Richard Freeman, Chief Transformation Officer for Eastern Maine Health Systems (EMHS); Greg Roraff, CEO of Blue Hill Memorial Hospital; and Jim Miller, CEO of Wooden Boat Publications, a Brooklin based, yet globally known small business.
The forum began with a brief overview of the current insurance based health system by moderator Joe Lendvai, chair of communications for Maine AllCare. In the run-up to the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) the idea of universal, single payer health care got dismissed altogether. In fact, during the hearings, Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus called Capitol Police to arrest some physicians and activists who stood up and requested that universal, single payer advocates be allowed to testify. Ironically, when it came to helping his own constituents in Libby (Lincoln County), Montana who are ravaged by cancer due to asbestos from a local vermiculite mine, he he had them all sign up for Medicare! The good Senator inserted a section in the President’s health reform bill to cover all the people harmed by cancer in this Montana community – he knows a good thing when he sees one.
ACA, commonly referred as Obamacare by both its detractors and supporters alike, is now the law of the land. While it is a historic political achievement and will cut roughly in half the current 50 million uninsured nationally, it will do little to control costs and will leave 25-35 million uninsured. The reason, ACA is built on the existing for-profit health insurance. A business model whose purpose is profit, to create wealth for its owners; and it does it by denying payment for care to patients.
Here in Maine, the Legislature passed a new health insurance law, Public Law 90, last year. Recently, Maine’s Consumers for Affordable Health Care reported on the new law’s effectiveness to date. The results are not good, especially for small businesses. The enthusiasm displayed by the Governor and Republican members of the state legislature for PL 90 seems more than puzzling in light of the results. Ninety percent of all businesses in Maine have seen their health insurance rates increase, often by double digits; and 54 percent of individuals' rates also increased. (For more details, see this PDF.)
Panel member and small business representative Jim Miller volunteered that his company faced a 32 percent increase in health insurance premiums this year. “I do not want to be in the insurance business”, said Miller. “Dealing with the details of employee health insurance takes me almost a month each year. Spending all those hours does nothing to increase our business and improve our productivity. We care about our employees health, but there has got to be a better way”, stated Miller.
Dr. Caper, responding to Miller said, “Yes, there is a better way. It’s proven by every industrialized nation. They pay half of what we do for health care per person, and cover everyone. And they are happier with their health care systems than we are, and have better outcomes.”
Dr. Freeman talked about EMHS introducing accountable health systems that will provide eligible patients access to chronic disease and wellness services. They are shifting from how much health care providers do for patients to how well the patient does as a result of treatment. Also, they are beginning to think in broad terms about how to improve overall health of the population while moving from volume to value-based reimbursement model.
The moderator asked CEO Roraff how a universal system would effect the resources needed in making sure the hospital gets paid by insurance companies and patients for services provided by Blue Hill Memorial Hospital. “A lot of time and money goes into administering the current payment system”, said Roraff. One can only imagine the benefit to the community if most of those administrative resources could be shifted to delivering actual health care to patients – and they would be, with universal health care.
By the end of the evening there was general agreement among all of the panelists that today's complex, fragmented, for-profit, insurance based health care system is broken. When the moderator turned to the audience and asked if anyone enjoyed shopping for health insurance, the response was a knowing and loud laughter. While both patients and providers have a responsibilty, and some improvements are under way, there remains a need for fundamental change in how we finance and organize health care. Blue Hill resident Margaret Hannah summed up the evening’s discussions by saying, “It’s only fair that we should move to universal health care. It is who we are. We take care of each other – particularly here in Maine.”
Additional information about how to achieve health care for everyone in Maine is available on this website. A sincere thank you to all who attended this public forum. The conversation that we started together in Blue Hill with over sixty interested and enthusiastic members of the public is a good step forward in bringing the issue of health care for everyone to the forefront. We hope you will continue to express your interest and support for universal health care because it is the best economic solution, as well as the right thing to do, to solve our continuing health care crises.
Joe Lendvai is Chair, Communications, Maine AllCare
This story appeared in print versions of The Weekly Packet - Oct 25, 2012 and The Ellsworth American - Nov 15, 2012