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Maine Health Care Advocates Launch Campaign for Universal Coverage
05/09/2013   Reported By: Patty B. Wight

As U.S. health care changes under the Affordable Care Act, some cheer and some bite their nails. But there are others who say the new law won't go far enough. Today, in Portland and Bangor, a coalition of Maine organizations kicked off a campaign to bring universal health care to Maine. It's not the first time this idea has been pushed in the state, but those behind the movement say this campaign will be different. Patty Wight reports.

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Maine Health Care Advocates Launch Campaign for Un
Originally Aired: 5/9/2013 5:30 PM

Uni health care 1 -Natalie Owens speaks at a press conference for universal health care. Photo: Patty Wight

Natalie Owens, of Scarborough, speaks at a press conference for universal health care.

Since 28-year-old Natalie Owens of Scarborough graduated from college six years ago, she says, like many other young adults, she's struggled to find financial security. She's twice been laid off from social service jobs due to budget cuts. On top of her job woes, she also has some in the health care department.

"The longest stretch I have had health insurance since graduating in 2007 has been seven months," she says.

Having no health insurance is of particular concern to Owens, who says breast cancer and osteoperosis runs in her family. Though the Affordable Care Act is supposed to help people like her, many have doubts that it will truly be affordable for everyone.

Jennie Pirkl of the Maine People's Alliance says the ACA also fails to address what she sees as the core failur of the U.S. health care system. "I think the problem with it is that it does still rely on a private insurance market, where people are making profit by denying people care," Pirkl says. "And it's never going to provide insurance to everybody."

The Maine People's Alliance is banding with the Maine Nurses Association and the AFL-CIO, among other organizations, to try to bring universal health care to Maine. Just what that system would be - a publicly-financed single-payer system, or a hybrid public-private system - Pirkl won't say. And that's on purpose.

"We want this campaign to be more about identifying the problems and agreeing on what the solution should look like in broad terms," she says. "So that's why we're really focusing on the human rights principles and the human rights aspect."

Those principles are: universality, transparency, participation, accountability, and equity. The coalition will use those as a guide as they embark on a campaign to collect Mainers' personal health care stories to determine what needs to change, as well as to show it's politically possible.

It's a model the coalition is borrowing from Vermont, where the Legislature passed a bill in 2011 to go to a single-payer system.

"It's not a done deal in Vermont - what we've done is embark on a multi-year process," says Anya Rader Wallack, the chair of the Green Mountain Care Board, which is overseeing the switch to single-payer. Rader Wallack says it's complicated, between figuring out how to finance the $1.6 billion it will take to operate, as well as integrating it within the context of existing U.S. health care programs.

"There's really a lot more complexity to the solution than just, you know, 'Do it like Canada does it,'" she says.

Getting pigeon-holed is exactly what the Maine coalition wants to avoid at this early stage, because universal health care does not have universal support. Critics often say it will ration care, and that it doesn't necessarily control costs.

But one supporter of universal health care, currently uninsured Jim Willis of Cape Elizabeth, says he's sold on the basic premise.

"I just want everybody to have health care," he says. "I don't know what the system's going to be called, but I just think that we should live in a civilized society where everybody can get their illnesses and injuries treated without going bankrupt, or going homeless, in the process."

Jennie Pirkl of the Maine People's Alliance says all doors are open to figure out just what that will be.

Photo: Patty Wight


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