PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — An organization with a branch in Maine is making sure the voices of Mainers speaking out on health care reform do not go unheard amid what has been a feisty national debate.
The Service Employees International Union recently launched “Change That Works,” a state-by-state effort to support President Obama’s efforts to fix the nation’s health care system, and to guarantee that workers have a voice in the effort.
Under the initiative, officials with Maine Change That Works set out Monday morning on the Health care ’09 Tour “We Need Reform-STAT.”
The tour began in Madawaska and traveled along U.S. Route 1 to gather health care stories from residents in order to build support for reform.
The ambulance they are traveling in stopped in Caribou and Presque Isle and was scheduled to make a stop in Calais on Monday. Stops also are planned in Eastport, Machias, Milbridge and Ellsworth on Tuesday, Aug. 18; in Bucksport, Belfast, Rockland, Boothbay Harbor and Newcastle on Wednesday, Aug. 19; in Rumford, Farmington and Skowhegan on Thursday, Aug. 20; and in Portland, Lewiston-Auburn and concluding in Bangor on Friday, Aug. 21.
The trip is planned to culminate at 2 p.m. Friday with the health care stories gathered on the trip being shared with the state’s congressional delegation in front of the office of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins in the Margaret Chase Smith Federal Building in Bangor.
“The purpose of this is to collect health care stories from Mainers, especially those in rural areas where people are sometimes forgotten,” Greg Howard, communications director for Maine Change That Works, said Monday afternoon. “We are collecting these patient profiles and we plan to present them on Friday to our congressional representatives.”
Along the way, the health care ’09 ambulance tour will be educating Mainers about the benefits of Obama’s plans for health care reform.
Those involved with the campaign maintain that reforming health care will allow middle-class families and small businesses to see reduced health insurance costs and a broader range of choices. Medicare also will be strengthened, they added, and the prescription drug “doughnut hole” will be closed, saving senior citizens thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs.
Campaign workers also maintain that doing nothing to reform health care will limit access by senior citizens to affordable prescription drugs and needed care, and eventually will put health insurance coverage out of reach for the middle class.
By 1 p.m. Monday, Howard said, campaign officials had heard stories from approximately 25 people from Madawaska to Presque Isle.
While debate about health care reform has flared tempers in many parts of the country, that has not been the case in Maine so far, according to Howard.
“Everyone we have spoken to has been really nice, not disagreeable at all,” said Howard. “We are having personal, one-on-one conversations with them.”
Howard noted that many people think of those who have no health coverage at all when they think about health care reform. But so far, Howard said, most people have been telling stories of being underinsured.
“These are often the people that are not talked about,” he said. “These are people who are working hard to pay for the coverage they have, but times have gotten tougher and other situations have occurred to make paying for that coverage even more difficult. Some people have given up and dropped the coverage, hoping that nothing will happen to their own health or to the health of their family members.”
Campaign officials also spoke Monday to business owners who have not been able to offer health insurance to their employees.
“Small businesses in the state have been particularly hard hit by this,” Howard said.
The campaign crew and its ambulance have received a warm welcome in Aroostook County.
“People are giving us the thumbs-up sign or are honking their horns or waving when they see the ambulance,” Howard said.
By the end of the tour, the ambulance will have stopped in 20 locations across the state, traveled more than 1,000 miles and collected personal health care stories from about 250 rural Maine residents.
The SEIU has 2 million members in Canada, the United States and Puerto Rico. It is the fastest-growing union in the Americas. The union focuses on uniting workers in health care, public services and property services.
For information, go to www.changethatworks.net/maine.