AUGUSTA — Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, and Legislative Democrats stood alongside patients, health care advocates and providers to unveil a suite of health care reform bills at a press conference on Tuesday.
“All across the state, families sit around the kitchen table each night trying to figure out how to stretch their budget to make ends meet and afford health care. I know because I hear it from Mainers every day, and most of all, I know because I’ve been there,” said President Jackson. “Families deserve better than a health care system that leaves people behind or with outrageous bills and nowhere to turn. With our patients first health care package, Legislative Democrats are taking a stand and building a health care system that prioritizes Maine patients over profits.”
“When I hear about Mainers rationing their medication or losing their life-savings despite being insured, I know our health care system requires major reform,” said Speaker Gideon. “With ongoing uncertainty at the federal level, it’s critical that we do everything we can at the state level to ensure stability and predictability for Maine families and businesses. With this suite of bills, we are leading the way and putting patients first. Legislative Democrats are committed to driving down costs and increasing accessibility for all Mainers.”
The Patients First health care package includes four proposals – sponsored by President Jackson, Speaker Gideon and Sen. Ned Claxton, D-Auburn – that advocate for Maine health consumers, protect against abusive and surprise billing practices, and limits the cost of insulin for some Mainers.
“For me, health care has always been about caring for my patients. But in my 40 years of practice, I’ve seen firsthand how the complexity of our health care system has made it more difficult for Mainers to get care,” said Sen. Claxton. “As a physician, I took an oath to put patients first. It’s time our health care system did too. That’s why I’ve introduced legislation to establish patient protections related to medical billing. These reforms are long overdue.”
The first bill – LR 2890, “An Act to Lower Health Care Costs” – from President Jackson will allow Maine to take control of growing health care costs in a complicated health care system by creating the Maine Commission on Affordable Health Care. The Commission holds all the players in the health care system accountable and establishes a process for effective, data-driven reforms. Last year, Massachusetts’ commission saved $7.2 billion patients and businesses. This year, Vermont’s commission will save consumers $7.3 this year in hospital costs alone, while strengthening Vermont’s rural hospitals.
Speaker Gideon has two bills in the proposal. LD 2096, “An Act To Save Lives by Capping the Out-of-pocket Cost of Certain Medications,” caps the amount patients in the individual and small group markets pay for life-saving insulin at $100. LR 2881, “An Act To Protect Consumers from Surprise Emergency Medical Bills,” protects patients from high-cost bills from out-of-network providers when they never had an opportunity to choose a cheaper option.
“When working Mainers take time off from work, budget for medication and copays, and are blindsided with a $427 administrative fee, we are left wondering how we can afford to see the doctor in the first place,” said Colleen Callahan of Brunswick. “That $427 was a tank full of oil in the winter, it was a chunk of my monthly mortgage payment, it was groceries for a month. And I know my story is not unique.”
The final bill in the package is from Sen. Claxton. LR 2889, “An Act to Establish Patient Protections in Billing for Health Care,” would protect patients from abusive billing practices and unnecessary patient fees. It aims to prevent patients from late medical bills, promote transparent billing, provide cost information to patients before they receive care, and requires providers to alert patients when they’ve been referred out-of-network.
“Maine people should not have to be afraid to go to the doctor or be worried about being sent to collections if they do. They should not have to choose between paying for the health care or prescription drugs they need or putting food on the table or fuel in their tank to heat their homes,” said Ann Woloson, Executive Director of Maine Consumers for Affordable Health Care. “I look forward to working with policymakers to move these initiatives forward over the next few weeks to improve access to quality and affordable health care for all people living in Maine.”
The cost of health care is increasing becoming a challenge in Maine and across the country. According to recent data, Maine ranks 14th in health care spending per capita, well above the national average. One in four Americans with health insurance find it difficult to afford their copays or their prescription medication, and one in seven Maine adults have forgone care due to cost.
Surprise and unexpected medical bills have become increasingly common and come under recent scrutiny. Almost 70 percent of Americans are worried about unexpected medical bills, and a recent study shows that one in five inpatient emergency department cases may lead to surprise bills.
All four bills will go before the Legislature’s Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services Committee for a public hearing later this month.