Thursday, April 21, 2011

Single Payer System for Maine:

Tuesday, May 3, 2011, four of us from Aroostook County, traveled to Augusta to attend the hearing on a bill to provide a single-payer health-care system for Maine.  It was one of the most gratifying experiences of my recent political activity.  Many people showed up to testify in support of the bill, LD 1397, and the opposition disappeared from the room as it came time for their testimony.    One lone opponent who appeared to be an insurance lobbyist showed up after testimony closed and asked to be permitted to speak.  He did, and that proved to be a fitting closure to the testimony because he did not address any of the specifics of the bill, and all he did say served to convince us that he had not read it.  Much of the testimony focused on a variety of problems the bill could resolve, including creating a more friendly business environmnet for Maine and providing a more level competitive playing field for Maine workers in the global market.  Following is testimony two of us gave on Tuesday.  It addresses some of the personal stresses faced by individuals trying to get affordable health care insurance that the single-payer bill would help to alleviate. 

Testimony in favor of LD 1397
An Act To Establish a Single-payor Health Care System To Be Effective in 2017

by Alice Bolstridge 
I am a retired teacher with a Maine State Retirement pension.  When I signed up for Medicare in 2003, the only additional coverage I could get for which the MSR System would pay their share was Aetna, the company providing my health insurance at the time of retirement.  I started paying about $350 a month from my own pocket, and the premium went up every year.  At some point I needed surgery and was hospitalized for several days.  When the bills started coming in, I discovered that I did not have the supplement plan I thought I had, but a catastrophic insurance plan that also provided some coverage for prescription drugs which I didn’t need.  Aetna did not pay any of the co-pay expenses for the surgery and hospital stay.  By this time my premium was up to about $450 a month.  With the state’s share, my insurance was costing over $700 a month.  Not only was I getting ripped off, the state was, too.  As a taxpayer, I was cheated twice to pay for Aetna profits.  The whole experience was a nightmare with trying to figure out if I should blame the insurance company or the providers who kept harassing me with bills. 

When the collection agency threatened me, I paid the bill to get some peace of mind, but my trust in some of the health care providers involved in that has never recovered.  I don’t intend to recover trust in for-profit insurance.  It is foolish for any of us to trust our health to companies whose only motive is profit.  And it is foolish to trust providers who are encouraged by the way they are paid to compromise quality of care and to waste money for unnecessary procedures.  I dropped Aetna coverage and picked up an Advantage plan.  I don’t trust them either.   They start you out cheap and then increase the premiums by 100 percent or more every year.  The first one stopped offering the product I had after about 2 years.  The one I have now started out with a payment of $0 per month and increased the premium to $50 per month the first year.  I don’t even know how to calculate that percentage.  These companies are getting subsidized by the federal government; we are cheated again.

When I first began my experience with a non-profit Blue Cross/ Blue Shield decades ago, our insurance life was simple and worry-free.  Faced with a life-threatening illness of one child that went on for several years and involved several hospital stays, we all—the patient, his family, and the providers—could focus on the medical problems of the illness, not on what we would have to sacrifice to pay for the treatment.   We need a payment system that returns us to that simplicity, effectiveness, and trust. 

This bill is especially important in view of the Health Care bill, LD 1333, that was already voted out of committee as ought to pass and is especially bad for seniors, rural areas, cancer patients, and people with other preexisting conditions.  Mainers, support LD 1397, and get for-profit insurance companies out of the health care business.

by Shelly Mountain.

I am here to support single-payer. I live in Mapleton with my husband and two sons. We are small business owners which means that we have an individual insurance plan. Until just a month ago we were paying Anthem $516 a month for a policy with a $15,000 deductible. It covered absolutely nothing before that $15,000 deductible. We were paying $6200 a year and still responsible for all of our medical expenses, which usually works out to at least that same amount in a year. I have stopped going to the doctor myself for any reason. I have strong family histories of both breast and colon cancer
but I do not get mammograms or colonoscopies because I can’t afford them. My understanding is that the Affordable Care Act now requires those things to be covered through insurance but Anthem never told me that and since my policy was grandfathered into the old system they were not required to cover those
things under that policy. The only way I found out about it was when I testified in March against their proposed rate increases. It is common practice at Anthem to keep policy holders in the dark about anything that would benefit the policy holder.

My 12 year old son was involved in a snowmobile accident this past winter and complained of severe pain from what he believed was a broken a rib. I hesitated about taking him to the ER. I knew an ER visit would be very expensive and that it would probably involve an expensive X-ray. I wondered, “Can they even do anything for a broken rib?” I ended up going because he was complaining about pain when he breathed. The winter before that I waited 3 days when he had a severe sore throat and fever before I finally took him in to find out he had strep throat and double ear infection. Untreated strep can be very dangerous.
I pay Anthem $6200 a year and I still struggle with whether I can afford a strep test on my son. I pay Anthem $6200 a year and still I have bill collectors calling and harassing me for payment of medical bills. I pay Anthem $6200 a year that I receive no benefit from. Where does all that money go?  Last year Anthem’s treasurer, R. David Kreschmer, had a compensation package that totaled almost $2.4 million. Last year the CEO of Anthem’s parent company, Wellpoint, was paid $13.1 million. Last year Anthem contributed money to political campaigns, including Governor LePage’s transition. They use my money to affect legislation that will add to their profits but exacerbate my ability to be a responsible parent. I have been financing my own worsening healthcare situation.

This shameful condition will continue to worsen as long as health care remains an industry motivated only by profits. The insurance companies have made it obvious that they are unwilling to contain their costs. They have made it clear that they value high executive pay and profit above the health care of their subscribers. Insurance is the only business that exists by charging increasingly excessive prices while providing absolutely no service. Insurance was originally developed as a means for many people to pool resources that could be used to help community members when they incurred costs that no one of them could afford individually. It is no longer that. It has become something in itself that fewer and fewer people can afford. We need to return it to its roots. A single payer system would provide a more reasonable and just pricing structure. Fewer administrative costs would mean that more money would actually be spent on citizen’s health care needs. Insurance companies and the executives who run
them would stop profiting off the suffering of Maine citizens.

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