Maine AllCare News – March 2018
Maine Legislative Task Force on Health Care Coverage hears from Citizens, Industry and Policymakers
Augusta – Maine AllCare was well represented at the March 2nd meeting of the Legislative Task Force on Health Care Coverage for All of Maine in Augusta. We had Board and Chapter members from around the state who came to testify in support of universal healthcare.
The meeting began with Representative Heather Sanborn welcoming everyone and introducing the Chairs and Task Force Members. Analyst Colleen McCarthy Reid reviewed the survey results from the Task Force members; only seven (out of 16) were submitted to date, and five of those said “yes” (2 said “no”) to whether ‘all Mainers should be required to have health care coverage’.
Michael Bourque, CEO of Maine Employers Mutual Insurance Company followed with an extensive report on “Workers’ Compensation Reform: Are there Lessons/Parallels?” His focus was workplace safety and the prevention of accidents, implying that any new healthcare system should emphasize prevention of diseases. Members asked many questions and seemed to appreciate his statement that “we are all in this together and we don’t want to lose workers due to ill health.” He also gave the impression that if only these people controlled their weight, diet, exercise, sugar, etc., they wouldn’t get sick (even cancer was mentioned). Absent was the idea that regular medical attention, such as annual physicals and comprehensive care are crucial to good health.
The complex topic of reinsurance was the next presentation. Much of it, dealing with high risk insurance, was elusive to most of the audience. Their operations have been suspended in Maine, ostensibly because of the Affordable Care Act.
By contrast, “State Options for Prescription Drug Pricing” presented by Ellen Schneiter from the National Academy for State Health Policy was of great interest to the entire audience as well as the Task Force members. The possibility of cutting prescription drug costs in half by wholesale state importation of drugs from Canada peaked everyone’s attention.
In the afternoon session, Senator Geoff Gratwick introduced the team of Tom Sterne M.D. and insurance expert Dean Felton, who presented “Options for a Public Model”. Recognizing the failure of our fee for service system in adequately addressing the issues of access, cost, inclusion and equity, and likewise acknowledging the current challenges in initiating a fully single payer system, Tom and Dean presented an innovative model designed as a stepping stone toward universal care and requested that the Task Force consider taking the steps necessary toward building the infrastructure that can move us toward the goal of unified and universal healthcare provision and funding system. Their model envisions the use of a unique and hybrid public-private collaboration to take the best advantage of the strengths of our current healthcare system, and to develop over the next 5 years a revamped service provider reimbursement system managed centrally by a State-sponsored Trust.”
The expert panel presentations concluded with a scheduling announcement about the next meeting of the Task Force for April 2nd, without public testimonies. Instead, the Task Force decided to form three Study Groups to have further discussions of these broad topics:
▪ The Structure of the Health Insurance Market Study Group
▪ The Controlling Costs Study Group; and
▪ The Public Options Study Group.
Public comments were the highlight of the afternoon session. Of the 15 speakers 10 people were representing Maine AllCare. It began with Dr. Bill Clark, leader of the Brunswick Chapter. He challenged the the Task Force head on: “This Study Group could take leadership and enhance the Insurance and Financial Services Committee’s initiative. I implore you to do so! Recommend a bold solution – that every Maine toddler, teen and adult be awarded comprehensive healthcare benefits, guaranteed through public funding.”
Next to speak was a new supporter of Maine AllCare, graduate student and young mom Paige Boynton. She described how her aunt and her own mother were diagnosed with cancer and were “failed by the medical system time and again”, as well as by the complicated world of FMLA, COBRA, ACA and disability”.
French teacher and Ellsworth/MDI Chapter member Valerie Dornan spoke about her personal experience in receiving excellent care at her local hospital for a severely broken arm. Unfortunately, her top notch surgeon who treats patients the least invasively possible was dismissed for “not bringing in enough revenue”, because this practice ‘only’ generated a couple of surgeries a week as opposed to the ‘desired’ couple each day.
Retired business person Joe Lendvai urged the Task Force to recommend immediate action by the Legislature on two modest but important initiatives as a first step toward universal healthcare in Maine. First, implement universal primary care to cover every child in Maine; and secondly, expand school food programs to include breakfast, lunch and snacks free to all students. Both these actions would have immediate positive results in improving the health of Maine’s children at a relatively small cost to the state.
Delene Perley, a volunteer coordinator at a Portland food pantry, tells of a story she hears far too often. A person has a job, but a medical emergency happens and he can’t continue to work, loses his health insurance, spends his savings, ends up selling his house; with no other choice, he moves in with relatives and ends up at the food pantry, a place he never imagined he’d be depending on to make ends meet.
There were multiple other stories: 40-year old a self-employed carpenter never could afford health insurance; a community organizer with a severe shoulder injury who recovered, and went back to work, only to lose her Maine Care coverage; a young farmer couple who simply don’t earn enough to buy any kind of health insurance – this story goes on and on.
Dr. Phil Caper, one of the last speakers for the day, summarized the proposed solution advocated by Maine AllCare: We need “publicly funded healthcare coverage for all Maine residents. The system must be efficient, financially sound, politically sustainable and must provide benefits fairly distributed to all.”
The Legislative Council has authorized 4 additional meetings for the Task Force before a final report date of November 1, 2018.
Submitted by: Joe Lendvai and Delene Perley
Maine AllCare has 10 chapters throughout Maine. Chapters have been holding events, forums, movie screenings and community discussions. Supporters of Maine AllCare attend parties’ caucuses, candidate forums, fairs, markets and other events, while sharing our mission and signing people on to support our work.
The Rockland Chapter will host a showing of the movie Now is the Time: Healthcare for Everybody followed by a panel discussion on March 27 from 6:30 – 8. Join them at the Rockland First Universalist Church, 345 Broadway.
Please visit our website to find a Maine AllCare event or chapter meeting near you. If YOU are a supporter, join your local chapter and sign on to help out in the future. For more information, please contact our chapter coordinator Marilyn McWilliams at firstname.lastname@example.org
Maine News and Opinion
Letter to the editor: Worker health coverage needs rethinking
March 8, 2018 – Portland Press Herald
Employment-based health insurance, now covering 56 percent of the nonelderly population, was introduced during World War II to help employers avoid wage controls. The issue of health care coverage in the recent contract negotiations between United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1445 and the company that operates the South Portland Hannaford distribution center provides an opportunity to examine that persisting model. When we do, several problems leap out.
• Employers are saddled with the unpredictable cost and hassle of insuring workers, while remaining vulnerable, as in the Hannaford case, to the threat of strikes. (A 2003 strike over health care benefits in Southern California cost three grocery chains over $2 billion.)
“In most labor negotiations during the past 30 years, more time and effort has probably been spent on the health care plans provided by labor agreements than on any other contract provisions, including pensions,” attorney Arthur Smith Jr. wrote in HR Magazine in 2013.
• Workers can’t see what they’re paying for health insurance within overall labor costs, have no guarantee that their plan or network will remain the same and risk losing coverage if they leave for any reason (the average worker has 11.9 jobs from age 18 to age 50, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics). An employer’s retention advantage can be an employee’s job lock.
• When commercial insurers insure employees, they are cherry-picking the healthiest demographic, leaving the poorest, sickest and oldest pool to be funded by increased taxes and cost-shifting. And sometimes blamed (“state patients”).
The possibility of another strike at a Hannaford distribution center may not be as newsworthy as assault weapons or Russian meddling, but it should serve to remind us, when we get back to the issue of health care reform, that we should not let outdated conventions and entrenched interests keep us from rethinking the relevance of today’s workplace to today’s health care.
Daniel Bryant, Cape Elizabeth (Dr. Bryant is the chair of the Greater Portland Chapter of Maine AllCare)
New Lead Sponsor for House Single Payer Bill
Earlier this week, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) took lead sponsorship of H.R. 676, the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act. This single-payer bill was modeled after a proposal originally crafted by PNHP that appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association. H.R. 676 would improve Medicare’s benefits by covering all medically necessary care, eliminating copayments and deductibles, and expanding Medicare to cover everyone living in the U.S.
The bill now has a record 121 co-sponsors, representing 63 percent of all House Democrats. Maine’s Representative Chellie Pingree is an original co-sponsor of H.R. 676. Please call or email Rep. Pingree to express your support for the bill, and to thank her for her commitment to national improved Medicare for All.
Americans already believe that everyone should have the right to affordable health care
Universal health coverage has seen a surge in public support; a recent poll (see summary below) showed that 92 percent of U.S. adults (including 82 percent of Republicans) believe that all Americans should have the right to affordable health care.
PNHP: “Alternative health care proposals are deeply flawed”
Lately, it seems that everyone has a plan for reinventing health care. Most promise political feasibility, but fall short of attaining both universal coverage and the long-term cost savings of single payer.
PNHP (Physicians for a National Health Program) analyzed a recent proposal for universal coverage from the Center for American Progress (CAP), whose funders include profit-based health firms such as Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Express Scripts, Health Care Service Corporation, and their lobbying group, America’s Health Insurance Plans. Not surprisingly, CAP’s plan, called “Medicare Extra for All,” (sound familiar?) preserves a major role for private insurers and for-profit providers, which will inflate patient costs and severely limit the program’s ability to control national health care spending.
Here’s a side-by-side comparison showing how the elements of the CAP plan measure up to PNHP Physicans’ Proposal for single payer.
As incrementalist proposals increasingly borrow the language of the single payer movement, many of our friends and colleagues may not understand the important differences between the two. To cut through that noise, PNHP identified three major flaws in the CAP plan that would undermine the success of any national health plan:
- The CAP plan maintains a strong role for private insurance, which adds unmanageable cost and complexity to the health care system.
- Because it is a fragmented, multi-payer system, the CAP plan has no power to cut costs through national and regional health planning.
- The CAP plan includes significant patient cost sharing, which discourages care, drives up administrative costs, and would leave many middle-class families with worse coverage than they have now.
Download PNHP’s one-page handout for more details on CAP’s big three policy flaws.
Editors note: Maine AllCare is a chapter of PNHP
Maine AllCare Thanks You for Your Support!
106,000 Mainers are uninsured and an estimated 200,000 or more are underinsured. We need your help to change that. We are increasing our effort to build an informed and unified movement across our state to support a universal healthcare system and help us carry the mission forward. This newsletter is just one small part of this effort. If you agree that everyone should have the right to affordable health care, give today to fuel Maine AllCare’s education and awareness work to return healthcare to its real mission: maintaining health and healing the sick.
PLEASE DONATE NOW. Maine AllCare is a chapter of PNHP, Physicians for National Health Program. Your donation is tax deductible under Section 501(c)3 of the IRS code, to the full extent allowable, as you receive no goods or services in return.
You can make an on-line donation at https://www.classy.org/checkout/donation?eid=139119
OR send your check to Maine AllCare, PO Box 5015, Portland, ME 04101.