Advocate for reform in Bangor

Greg Howard spokesman for &quotMaine Change that Works" holds a press conference on Friday, Jan. 22, 2010 in Bangor, next to a pickup truck containing a digital display with an escalating dollar figure that Howard says represents what Americans are paying in a hidden health care tax to pay for those Americans without health insurance.  BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY KEVIN BENNETT
Greg Howard spokesman for "Maine Change that Works" holds a press conference on Friday, Jan. 22, 2010 in Bangor, next to a pickup truck containing a digital display with an escalating dollar figure that Howard says represents what Americans are paying in a hidden health care tax to pay for those Americans without health insurance. BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY KEVIN BENNETT
Posted Jan. 22, 2010, at 6:29 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — What does a digital money counter on the bed of a pickup truck have to do with health care?

Plenty, said Greg Howard of the Maine Change that Works campaign, a citizen group pushing for health care reform.

“These numbers illustrate the hidden tax that all of us pay for health care,” he said Friday in Bangor, one of many state stops on the Maine Change that Works “Hidden Health Tax Counter” tour. “And every hour, every day, the costs continue to go up.”

In 2008, Howard said, $42.7 billion in health care costs went uncompensated. To make up the difference, those costs were passed on to individuals who buy insurance, or about $1,017 per family or $368 per individual.

Broken down per minute, that’s $81,240, or $1,354 every second. And so the counter climbs higher.

In addition to the $42.7 billion that is passed on to individuals in 2008, Howard said, another $42 billion was paid out-of-pocket by the uninsured, and $30 billion was paid for third party sources such as charities.

“These costs stifle economic growth,” he said. “It can only be rectified through comprehensive health care reform.”

Earlier this week, Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown scored an improbable victory over Democrat Martha Coakley in a special election for the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the death of Edward M. Kennedy. The Republican win was more than symbolic. It reduced the Democratic caucus in the Senate to 59 votes, one shy of the 60 needed to pass health care reform proposed by President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats.

Howard said the recent shift in the Senate certainly changes the paradigm but also said it doesn’t lessen the need for reform.

“Eighty percent of what has been proposed [in health care legislation] is agreed upon by Democrats and Republicans,” he said. “Doing nothing is not an option.”

Howard also said a survey after survey conducted in Maine suggests that residents want changes that would reduce their insurance costs.

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