Over the years during tough economic times, Maine people always find a way to survive, oftentimes through the support from family and community. These days, we seem to pay more for goods and services than in the past. Many attribute the increased cost for goods and services to the overall performance of the economy. The details of a poor economy and the collateral damages that results sadly get lost in government when time comes to find a solution to solve problems such as high unemployment, low wages, high energy costs, high property taxes, high food costs and high health insurance premiums.
In Maine, with a median income that ranks 31st in the nation, the high costs for goods and services are perhaps the biggest strain on families and households. Maine’s leaders need to pay more attention to the reality of living in Maine and the high cost to do so. Maine’s leaders need to do more to address the increased cost for goods and services and less time on sideshows, which become distractions and take time away to deal with what really matters in Maine and the reality we all face.
Over the last few weeks, Maine saw gasoline prices rise in some areas 30 cents or more, currently hovering around $4 per gallon for the “cheap stuff.” The price for home heating oil, which nearly 80 percent of all Maine homes use, is about the highest in our country, costing Maine people between $3.45 and $3.75 a gallon.
This winter, people saw some of the highest prices for electricity in eastern, central, and northern Maine. To make matters worse, our electric company seeks a rate increase to cover “stranded costs.” If anyone feels stranded, it is not the electric company; it’s the rate payers being asked to pay more for electricity during these tough economic times.
Take health care and the high cost for health insurance in Maine, where many families go without insurance or pay huge premiums with not much coverage, leaving most people paying out of pocket for doctor visits, hospital lab work and medications to treat illness.
In Maine, a big discrepancy exists for what hospitals can charge for procedures. That needs to be addressed by the Legislature and by our governor.
Personally speaking, I received a bill for colonoscopy procedure done at my local hospital. For starters, I pay about $1,100 a month in health insurance premium, which covers 80 percent of the medical costs; I pay the balance or 20 percent. The hospital in my area billed the insurance company $3,758 and still billed me almost $700 to cover what the health insurance would not pay. On top of that, I received an additional bill from the doctor for $318 to cover the balance not paid by the insurance company and separate lab fee of almost $200. All said the total was just less than $5,000.
I finally had enough, so I looked into what other hospitals charge for the procedure, and to my surprise the range averaged between $2,250 (Portland), $3,300 (Ellsworth), $2,625 (Bangor), $7,100 (my area). This information can be found on any website for cost of medical procedures. I found my data on colonoscopycosts.com. When I called the insurance company about the price difference, all they said was the cost for the procedure is set by the insurance company in negotiations with hospital. I felt “stranded,” similar to how I felt when I paid my electric bill earlier this month.
All of us in Maine are confronted every day with increased costs for goods and services. It’s what binds us all no matter what religion, gender, race or political group we belong to. These are the real issues. These arguably are the issues Maine’s lawmakers need to focus on most.
While the work continues in Augusta, we need to remind our elected officials to be mindful of not only managing the cost of government but equally aware of the impact, unintentional or not, of the decisions they make that increase the cost of goods and services for the people of Maine.
Ian Emery of Cutler is a former Republican state representative from District 32. He currently serves as a selectman in Cutler.