Proposed cuts threaten Bangor’s health care

By Dale Hamilton, Mary Prybylo and Kenneth Schmidt
Posted Dec. 30, 2011, at 10:31 p.m.

Your Bangor community health care organizations need to let you and our legislators know that we are deeply concerned about the negative impact of the supplemental budget proposed by Gov. Paul LePage.

This budget will lead to all of us paying more for health insurance, hundreds in our area losing their jobs, and most important, 14,000 losing health coverage. The hundreds who will lose their jobs in the Bangor area are real people — they are our friends and neighbors, as are the thousands who no longer can obtain health care with their physician, dentist or mental health provider. They are someone’s mother, father, sister, brother, daughter, son or friend.

This isn’t how we do things in Maine.

Foreseeable direct cuts to Maine hospitals and health care organizations total more than $50 million. Indirect impacts will increase costs millions more. The changes, should they be adopted as proposed, will hurt our capacity to treat all Maine residents regardless of ability to pay. The proposed reductions could result in service cuts, cost shifts and layoffs severely affecting hundreds of thousands of people across Maine.

The governor’s budget will cut about 14,000 people in our region from MaineCare health coverage. These people have no money to buy health insurance. They will be forced to get their health care in hospital emergency departments. Community health centers, community and public health organizations, area homeless shelters, law enforcement, municipalities and prisons all will absorb higher costs.

Emergency departments will be overcome as Mainers in need of basic health care services lose their doctor, dentist or mental health provider. Emergency departments are a much more expensive and far less effective way to provide care. Our Bangor area hospitals cannot absorb these costs — they will be shifted to private insurance and thus to businesses and to all of us as employees.

There is no free lunch in health care — we all need it and it all needs to be paid for. Our choice is: do we pay less by keeping people healthier or do we let people get sicker and obtain care in very expensive emergency departments or in hospital beds?

Here’s just one example of how the proposed budget actually will cost taxpayers more, not less. If a MaineCare patient goes to Penobscot Community Health Care’s Dental Center, MaineCare pays $140 for the visit and the dental problem is fixed. If that same MaineCare patient ends up in an emergency department, MaineCare (us taxpayers) will pay $500-$700 and the problem cannot be fixed because the emergency departments do not have dentists.

The cost and problem likely will be compounded if the patient is given drugs to deal with the pain. The patient will have to go again and again to the emergency department to get painkillers, costing taxpayers $500-$700 every time instead of paying just $140 to fix the problem. Why waste all that taxpayer money?

Proposed changes will threaten the financial viability of health care institutions that care for Maine people. The growing costs of providing even more charity care will further burden already thin operating margins for Maine hospitals and health care organizations; organizations still awaiting nearly $400 million in MaineCare payments.

We urge policymakers to analyze what the impact of 65,000 newly uninsured Mainers really means to our health care infrastructure and total health care costs, and only then make truly informed decisions regarding the MaineCare program.

Our Bangor health care organizations are all working to improve health care, keep people healthier and keep them out of emergency departments and hospitals when there are other avenues for help, while reducing costs. This is how to save taxpayers’ money, not by cutting people off MaineCare or cutting services.

Maine poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote, “Give what you have. To someone, it may be better than you dare to think.” Maine health care providers know that what we have and what we give is critical to Maine people: quality, accessible health care for every Maine person who needs it, regardless of his or her ability to pay. We cannot provide this alone, however. Our patients, our employees and our capacity to give what we have will bear too heavy a burden should the changes as proposed are adopted.

Dale Hamilton is executive director of Community Health and Counseling Services, Mary Prybylo is president and CEO of St. Joseph Healthcare/St. Joseph Hospital and Kenneth Schmidt is CEO of Penobscot Community Health Care. All three organizations are based in Bangor.

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/12/30/opinion/contributors/proposed-cuts-threaten-bangors-health-care/ printed on December 24, 2014