While we sit in our offices in Penobscot and Washington counties, we may be hundreds of miles from Washington, D.C., but we can read and we can see what is going on. For the future health care of Mainers from Kittery to Caribou we hope that Congress deals with some pretty basic facts.
• There are about 140,000 residents without health care coverage.
• 15 percent of Mainers who work still do not have health care.
• About $300 million is lost each year by health care providers. Those costs are passed in increased premiums to those who have insurance.
• Health care premiums in our state have risen 105 percent since the year 2000.
• Family premiums here average more than $14,000 a year. This is creating a tremendous burden on our families and our businesses. Perhaps that is why less than half the businesses in Maine offer health insurance to their employees.
Is there a Mainer out there who thinks these problems should continue to be ignored? We see the opposition to the pending legislation — which is really health insurance reform and not reform of the actual provision of health care — as being far more political than substantive. To that end, we hope our two senators will rise above the politics as they have done so often in the past and do what is right for our state.
From Margaret Chase Smith to Bill Cohen to Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins we have been fortunate to have had senators who don’t follow party orthodoxy or make decisions based on the next set of elections but rather on how it will affect our state’s residents.
We must prohibit insurance companies from denying service for pre-existing conditions. These companies cannot continue to establish artificial caps over the course of a year or a lifetime for someone dutifully paying their premiums. These and other critically important initiatives will not be undertaken without meaningful re-form including the establishment of a new customer base for those companies and expanding the number of options so there is more competition.
While Indian tribes are in a unique position due to the fact that we get some health coverage from the Indian Health Service we are nonetheless affected by many of the same problems others in Maine see every day, not the least of which is only being able to offer individual insurance as the cost of family insurance is simply prohibitive. We hope our senators will do what they can to help all of us.
Kirk Francis is the chief of the Penobscot Indian Nation. Rick Phillips-Doyle is the chief of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point.