BANGOR, Maine — On the eve of a landmark health care reform vote in the U.S. House of Representatives, protestors gathered outside the offices of Rep. Mike Michaud on Saturday to take a last-ditch stand against the pending legislation.
The roll-call vote was expected to come later Saturday evening, with both Michaud and Rep. Chellie Pingree having announced their support for the measure.
“At this point it may not do any good,” acknowledged activist Jerry Call of South Thomaston, “but I feel very strongly that the public needs to know what’s going on.”
What’s going on, according to Call, is an inadequate and misguided effort on the part of Congress to reform the nation’s health care system. That effort, he said, shifted focus early on to reforming the way health insurance is marketed and regulated and does little to improve care or hold down costs.
In addition, Call said, the absence of a meaningful public insurance program to compete with private companies virtually guarantees a windfall of new customers and greater profits to private insurance companies.
The House bill does contain a public option, but Call criticized its makeup as lacking “teeth” and said it would exclude the majority of Americans who need relief from the exorbitant cost of private insurance. The House bill, which includes a mandate for virtually all Americans to purchase health care coverage, would shunt most of an estimated $400 billion in tax-funded insurance subsidies for low- and middle-income individuals and families to private insurance companies, Call said.
Fewer than a dozen people attended the State Street protest. Among them were Sam and Irene Bergman of Hancock, who support a single-payer plan for all Americans. Irene Bergman, 63, said she works two part-time jobs but recently lost her health care coverage when her husband lost his job.
“He’s 65, so he can get Medicare,” she said. “All I want is what he’s got.”
Also in attendance was Dr. Philip Caper of Brooklin, a retired physician and a former health care adviser to the late Sen. Edward Kennedy. Caper said the nation’s health care system is at a fork in the road.
The American health care system has become progressively more “corporatized,” Caper said, with pharmaceutical companies, medical device manufacturers, insurers and many doctors and other providers working for investor profits rather than for the health of citizens.
Health care in this country is currently “more about the money than the mission,” he said.
If the final health care bill passed out of Congress — a conference committee merger between the pending House bill and a Senate version still to be voted on — strengthens the private, for-profit sector, he said, “it will be a step backward.”
“But if it provides a platform for further exploration of the public option, it’s a step forward,” Caper said.
Michaud’s Washington, D.C., office sent out a statement Friday afternoon saying he intended to support the House health reform measure. The decision comes “after hundreds of meetings, hours of careful consideration and lots of soul searching,” he said.
“I will support the bill before the House today because this process must move forward,” Michaud said. He said he still has concerns about the measure, including its impact on Medicare and Medicaid spending and its effect on access to care in rural areas.
“My vote today does not guarantee where I will come down on the future conference report,” he said.