Report claims healthcare plan could reduce costs, cover everyone in Maine

Note: this news article was originally published in the Machias Valley News Observer on January 6, 2020, and is reprinted here in full, with permission from the publisher.

by Ruth Leubecker

An all-encompassing healthcare proposal could save Maine $1.5 billion in healthcare spending, according to a new analysis released by Maine AllCare.

“When every Mainer is covered, and there is never a bill to patients. When doctors are paid promptly, and everyone contributes on a sliding scale, we will truly have a caring and cost-effective system,” says Joe Lendvai, stressing the plan’s simplicity and fairness.

Lendvai is a founding member of Maine AllCare, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization founded in 2012 as a chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program. The report, “Assessing the Costs and Impacts of a State-Level Universal Health Care System in Maine,” was commissioned by Maine AllCare to determine how such a system could be financed.

Historically, there has never been the political will to attack such a formidable project. “When the subject comes up, people always ask ’How are you going to pay for it?’ but the truth is we already pay more for health care than any other developed nation,” says Henk Goorhuis, MD, and board chair of Maine AllCare. “We’re doing this while families continue to skip doctor’s visits, or otherwise forgo necessary care because they can’t afford it.”

Under the model studied by MECEP (Maine Center for Economic Policy), federal programs like Medicare and Medicaid would remain intact, and a state-operated program would cover the remaining 652,000 uninsured and underinsured Mainers, while

also picking up those inadequately covered by private insurance. Covering coverage gaps and eliminating out-of-pocket expenses, the proposal also provides dental, vision and hearing benefits to every Maine resident.

About 80 percent of this new publicly funded system would be financed by funds now being spent on premiums, deductibles and out-of-pocket costs. The remainder, estimated at $1 billion by MECEP in the report, would be paid for by raising taxes. However, several potential revenue sources could make this tax more palatable. Those 80 percent would see an appreciable net gain in their family net income due to the absence of premiums and additional costs at the pharmacy counter. Municipalities and counties would see a savings of $214 million, or 8.3 percent in property tax, which translates into a reduction of 1.5 mills.

The report also claims that employers would pay the same or less than they do today. Workers Compensation would be cut in half, and employers would eliminate the cost of choosing and managing their healthcare coverage.  Hospitals would be paid promptly and directly at Medicare rates. It follows that over 2,900 administrative jobs in healthcare would be lost, due to the simplified system, but the model assumes that retraining costs would become part of the transition.

“I think the only thing we’re lacking is the political will to do it,” says Lynn Cheney, longtime board member and champion of Maine AllCare. “I’ve been an ACA navigator since the beginning, and I’m really worried about the underinsured.  “The ACA bronze plan, for instance, comes with a $6,000 deductible. I don’t even call that health coverage.”

When hearing about the Maine AllCare proposal, for most people the immediate assumption is that it is unaffordable. Recognizing Maine as the oldest state in the nation and rapidly growing more so, Cheney says they decided to take action.

“We decided to do this study for Maine, and thanks to a Stephen King grant we could do that,” she explains. “I think it’s very doable, but it’s a political thing. On December 16, we had a meeting in Augusta and that raised a lot of good questions.”  That meeting was well attended by members of the Joint Committee on Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services. Although a necessary first step, a lot of road work in the form of dispensing information remains.

“I think Jeanne Lambrew has impressive credentials and Gov. Mills understands the need, but this will be bogged down in the politics,” says Cheney. “I think it’s going to take more push from the bottom. The voters.”

The study supporting the analysis looked at health care cost scenarios based on seven different families, of varying sizes and incomes, ranging from $10,000 to $500,000. All but the highest would see savings under the analyzed model, with the state-level plan bringing significant benefits to Maine residents. An accompanying survey will be released later this month.