Market reforms will not result in health care for all in Maine

Federal and state programs will not achieve the savings promised by a single-payer system

By Julie Pease, M.D.
Portland Press Herald (Maine), Jan. 30, 2012

For two years, while great effort has been spent debating health care reforms, costs for health insurance have continued to spiral out of control. Contrary to the assertions of Sen. Deborah Sanderson in a Dec. 30 column ("Legislature is tackling the causes of Maine's high health care costs"), there is simply no evidence to suggest that increasing competition in the for-profit insurance market will control health care costs, just as there is no evidence to suggest that federal reforms will be able to bring costs under control.

How much longer must we wait before we can agree that our health care system is irretrievably broken and recent incremental "reforms" are ineffective? How many families will go bankrupt due to medical expenses? How many people will die due to delaying care or being unable to access care at all?

The best way to control health care costs and to bring quality comprehensive health care to all Maine people is through a universal single-payer health care system. Under a universal system, everybody would be equally affected by changes in benefits and eligibility would become a moot point. The conversation in Augusta would be much different if Gov. LePage were proposing health care cuts for all Mainers rather than our most impoverished and vulnerable citizens.

Eliminating administrative waste would save a great deal of money. In testimony before the Maine Legislature, Harvard Professor William Hsiao estimated potential savings in the first year under single-payer to be $1 billion in Maine alone!

Maine could use these savings to provide real health care benefits instead of wasting money on administrative overhead or insurance company profits. Shifting from a for-profit to a not-for-profit financing mechanism would place the focus of health care on healing and health rather than profitability.

It is time to follow the lead of our neighbors in Vermont who have taken steps toward universal health care. We can't afford to wait.

Julie Pease, M.D., is president of the board of directors of Maine AllCare. She lives in Brunswick.