If there is one thing a pandemic is good for, it is making you think about health care. Flaws in the current system were exacerbated by COVID, and the inequities, which have been present but below the radar for some time, came into closer view during the last year.
For all too many Mainers, an emergency medical event can be devastating, both physically and financially. And if you find yourself without health insurance, that single unplanned event could bankrupt you.
In Maine, with a population of roughly 1.3 million, there are approximately 120,000 residents without any health insurance at all. And for another 300,000 residents, their coverage is not only unaffordable but protects them far less than they’d like.
Last month, the state’s Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services Committee voted 7-3 “ought to pass” on an amended bill that would provide universal health care coverage to all residents of Maine. The bill, LD 1045, would cover all care, including dental, vision and hearing, mental health, chemical dependency treatment, prescription drugs, medical equipment and supplies, long-term care and home care. It would be paid for by all Mainers, based on a yet-to-be-determined formula that would take income into account.
The bill is similar to work initiated by Maine Healthcare Action, a branch of Maine AllCare, an organization that promotes the establishment of a publicly funded health care system. The nonprofit has been working throughout the state for many years and recently embarked on a petition drive to force a similar measure on an upcoming state-wide election ballot. The organization aims to have a system of universal health care coverage for all Maine residents by 2024.
The ballot initiative does not propose a specific bill, but rather instructs the Legislature to create and enact a universal health care plan by 2024.
In America, the primary way people opt–in to a health care plan is through their employer. But, as we also learned this past year, a job is only as steady as the economy. During the pandemic, it is estimated that close to 8 million U.S. workers lost employee-sponsored insurance, affecting more than 14 million people when you factor in spouses and dependents.
In Maine, roughly 30 percent of workers are covered by an employee-sponsored plan, leaving others to either forgo insurance altogether, purchase it on the open market or rely on other social programs such as MaineCare or Medicare.
The state, with large sectors of self-employed and low-paid seasonal workers, would benefit greatly from a universal plan and we urge the Legislature to support LD 1045. We understand that no system will be perfect and there will be a lot of legislative wrangling as the details are worked out, but the benefit to Mainers would be substantial — in both savings and peace of mind.