July 16, 2020

Quality, affordable health care access

While many University of Maine students took the day off from classes to celebrate Maine Day, a university tradition, more than 100 students, community members, small business owners and politicians, including Gov. John Baldacci, gathered at a forum hosted by the Progressive Student Alliance to talk about health care.

Called “Dirigo: Leading the Nation in Healthcare,” the talk focused on Dirigo health and its role in providing health care for Maine citizens. The forum focused on the considerable positive aspects of the Dirigo health program and also helped to expose a tenuous political future for Dirigo health.

At the event students presented keynote speaker Gov. Baldacci with two University of Maine Student Government resolutions affirming the right to affordable, accessible and quality health care and a resolution sponsoring the forum. Members of the Progressive Student Alliance presented the governor with a petition signed by more than 300 students supporting the efforts of Dirigo health to alleviate Maine’s health care crisis.

Morgan Pottle, a university student, presented the petition on behalf of those who signed it and on behalf of the 40 percent of college students who will be without health insurance within a year after graduating. This presentation represented much more than 300 signatures or two student government resolutions, it represented the common desire that citizens, business owners and Maine’s next generation of great minds have for health care.

One of the truly eye-opening aspects of this event included the stories of two small business owners in Maine, Erik Oder-Fink of Justice Clothing Cooperative and David White of MDI Imported Car Services Inc. Oder-Fink chose Maine over several other areas as the destination for his successful Internet business because of the DirigoChoice insurance product.

White recounted the story of having to lay off an employee and cut wages just to afford the soaring premiums on his business’ previous health care plan and how DirigoChoice was now the only way that he could afford to provide health insurance for his employees.

This event was not only an educational opportunity for many about health care, but it also served to illustrate the complex political context that the health care debate exists in. The Dirigo debate is not unfamiliar to those paying attention to this spring’s legislative session and those concerned about health care but it may be unfamiliar to many Maine citizens who desire health care but are reluctant to delve in to such a complicated issue and contact their elected representatives.

This reality was evident from Joe Ditre of Consumers for Affordable Healthcare’s story of talking with a Maine state legislator who said they had been “swamped” by three calls from constituents the evening before. At the forum the need for citizen involvement in the legislative process became a resonating theme especially in light of the fact that legislation directly pertaining to Dirigo is still very much in doubt in the State House.

As the discussion shifted to the political dynamic of Dirigo health it became apparent that Dirigo’s success rested partly on the fate of two pieces of legislation, LD 1935 and LD 1845, the latter forcing Anthem insurance to uphold its agreement to honor the Savings Offset Payment and the former to move Dirigo health to a self-administered entity.

Panelist and state Rep. Anne Perry of Calais described a scenario in which one vote from a representative could help this legislation sink or swim in the Maine State House. This only served to reinforce the need for citizen involvement in the Dirigo debate.

Though the forum was a great success and many people walked away with a better understanding of health care in Maine and Dirigo health the forum also illustrated that much work remains to be done. Resistance from legislators serving the needs of big insurance, political ambition and a lack of citizen knowledge about the success of Dirigo health could all contribute to Dirigo health’s demise.

This does not have to be the case as the Legislature will be debating and voting on critical Dirigo legislation later this May. Contact information for your local representative can be found at http://www.maine.gov/portal/government/legislature.html.

By calling or writing to our local representatives and expressing support for LD 1935 and LD 1845 we can ensure better access to quality, affordable health care.

Patricia-Ruth Atchinson is a University of Maine second-year Nutrition and Premed student. She is a member of the Sophomore Eagles Honor Society and the Progressive Student Alliance.

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