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The Future of Healthcare in Maine

By: Chris Hedgpeth

As you’re sitting on the couch watching BoJack Horseman one night, you start to feel a dull pain right around your belly button. At first you think it’s existential dread, but as it
begins to migrate down and to the right, it becomes increasingly more sharp. You throw up. Before long you’re in an ambulance, heading toward the emergency room to have your appendix removed.

Screen Shot 2019-09-16 at 9.08.41 AM

Illustration by: Tim Randall

If you’re one of the over a hundred thousand people in Maine who are uninsured, a laparoscopic appendectomy will cost you about $20,000, not including the fees charged by a team of healthcare professionals who worked on you. To most people, this would be financially devastating. We have insufficient health care systems in place here in Maine, and the United States at large. Maine’s eight percent rate of uninsured people roughly matches the nation’s (~9%). Of the Mainers who are insured, many
are in a position where they can’t change jobs for fear of losing their
employer-provided insurance. Business owners pay most (around 70-80%) of
the cost of providing their employees with coverage. It’s a system that affects employees and employers alike.

Medical procedures must be approved by the insurance companies through their labyrinthine hierarchy of administrators. Each middleman between you and your doctor takes a cut, ultimately causing you and every other American to pay twice as much as the
average human for health care. Insurance and pharmaceutical lobbyists spent over
$430 million in 2018 to keep it this way.

Luckily there’s a national movement to change this system. Possibly the most popular topic of discussion during the Democratic primary debates has been single-payer healthcare, or Medicare for all. The objective of single-payer is to cut out the insurance companies and have a single, streamlined system funded by everyone for everyone.

Canada, Taiwan, and South Korea all have a centralized health care payment system. Many other countries have localized or hybrid systems for medical care coverage. It may take a long time for the United States to adopt such a system, so individual states and municipalities are beginning to explore their own single-payer systems. One of those states is Maine.

This June, Maine state Representatives Heidi Brooks and Mike Sylvester sponsored two similar bills, one to promote universal health care (LD 1611) and one to enact a state single-payer system (LD 1617), respectively. At the end of August, Governor Janet Mills sent a letter of intent to the Center for Information and Insurance Oversight to establish a state insurance marketplace. While it’s not a step toward single-payer, the state marketplace is a step toward independence that would insulate Mainers from further cuts to the Affordable Care Act. If you are anything like me, you probably want to know what you can do to support the push for a more equitable and efficient way to pay for health care. First, make yourself heard. Contact your legislators. Send them emails. Call their offices. The more voices they hear, the more likely they are to support a change to our insurance system. Second, support non-profit organizations like Physicians for National Health Program or Maine AllCare. You can find out more about each at pnhp.org and maineallcare.org.

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