Paying Maine’s remaining Medicaid debt to its hospitals and reducing the number of uninsured Mainers by expanding Medicaid eligibility under the federal Affordable Care Act have properly dominated lawmakers’ public health agenda during the legislative session that’s winding down in Augusta.
With much less fanfare, legislators in recent days have taken positive actions to protect and enhance public health in Maine. Here are four examples:
— The House on Wednesday and the Senate on Thursday reaffirmed Maine’s status as one of the nation’s strongest protectors of privacy and reproductive rights by rejecting three bills — LD 760, LD 1193 and LD 1339 — that would have inserted state government into the relationship between pregnant Maine women and their doctors.
Lengthy and emotional debate on each bill in both chambers offered fresh evidence that the ideological divide between “pro-life” and “pro-choice” Mainers remains wide and isn’t likely to close soon. But after that passionate political debate, a majority of legislators voted six times to keep politics out of what must remain a private decision made by women, based on trusted support and counseling within their control.
— Showing rare bipartisan agreement on an approach to making health care more affordable, the Senate on Friday gave final passage to LD 171, a bill that lifts the August 2012 prohibition imposed by former Attorney General William Schneider on the use of international firms to fill mail order prescriptions.
The bill restores a lower-cost medication option that for as far back as eight years ago proved beneficial to state workers, Portland city staff and employees of Hardwood Products Co., a private business in Guilford. Before Schneider intervened, employees and employers — including state and local governments reeling to afford basic workforce benefit packages — realized significant savings through affiliation with CanaRx, an Ontario-based international pharmacy firm. The firm, which operates in Illinois, Vermont, Rhode Island and other states, has a solid safety record and earned participants’ praise for quality service.
Concerns that broader use of mail-order prescription programs like those offered by CanaRx might harm Maine pharmacies aren’t strong enough to warrant continuing to block a desperately needed route to savings for patients, government and health-plan administrators.
— Passage of LD 661, which the Legislature approved unanimously Friday, reduces the likelihood that synthetic marijuana products such as “Spice” and “K2” will add to the human toll inflicted by bath salts. The bill, sponsored by Bangor Rep. Adam Goode with backing from the full Bangor legislative delegation, closes a loophole that allows unscrupulous dealers to skirt the existing ban on psychosis-inducing synthetic pot products by making minor alterations in their chemical makeup.
This proactive effort to combat the scourge of drug abuse in Maine merits Gov. Paul LePage’s signature.
— A bill that calls for genetically modified foods to carry a label denoting that fact takes the sensible position that Maine people deserve as much information as possible to help them make decisions about what they consume.
Requiring that information about whether food products sold in Maine stores have been genetically engineered should not be seen as a competitive disadvantage. It’s a fair approach that lets consumers decide for themselves.
The bill, LD 718, won’t take effect until five contiguous states enact similar legislation, but Maine’s support for the concept adds momentum toward that reasonable goal.
The Legislature’s actions on these measures boosted public health policy in Maine.