By Alanna Durkin
The Associated Press, Jan. 9, 2014
AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — A government-run health care system in Maine would provide universal coverage to residents, cut down on administrative costs and free businesses from the complexities of providing insurance for their employees, supporters of a single-payer model said Thursday.
Advocates of a single-payer system have long been trying to implement the model in Maine with little success, but said they are hopeful that the steps Vermont officials have recently made to spearhead the effort there can help make it a reality in Maine.
“Our current health care system is complicated, is inefficient, unfair and pretty much broken,” said Julie Pease, president of Maine AllCare, the group behind the measure, which she said will “return our system to one where … our medical profession treats our patients based on their health care needs not on their ability to pay or what kind of insurance they have.”
The bill, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Charlie Priest of Brunswick, aims to create a single-payer health care system in Maine by 2017, as officials are trying to do in Vermont. Beginning in 2017, Vermont will offer a set package of coverage benefits to every resident under the program.
But the idea in Maine faces fierce opposition from insurance companies and questions remain about how the state could afford such an endeavor.
Dan Bernier, a lobbyist for the Maine Insurance Agents Association, said that government should focus its limited resources on the poor, elderly and disabled instead of those who can afford coverage.
“It is not the role of government to provide someone like myself, a lawyer and lobbyist, free health insurance,” he told the Insurance and Financial Services Committee on Thursday.
Supporters argue it would ultimately save the state as much as $1 billion down the line by eliminating unnecessary paperwork and administrative costs. The program would be paid for through taxes like people already do for Medicare and Medicaid, they said.
But the state first has to make a commitment to universal health care before every single detail can be worked out, said Joe Lendvai, a Brooklin resident who advocates on behalf of the bill with Maine AllCare.
“Unless we conceptually agree that we need to cover everyone, that every Maine resident deserves access to health care without any barriers, we are not going to succeed,” he said.
But any proposal to raise taxes would likely be rejected by Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who has vowed not to do so while he’s in office and vetoed the state budget last year because it included tax increases.
Democratic Sen. Geoff Gratwick of Bangor acknowledged that it will be tough to pass the measure in this political and economic environment, when budgets are especially tight. But he said that Maine lawmakers have long-understood the serious problems with the current health care system and want a change.
“This is going to happen whether or not we get it now, two years from now, 10 years from now,” he said. “It’s inevitable because our current system is broken,” he said.
[This wire story appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, among other newspapers.]